I did not make this headline up
Obviously your first game is this week. Just your overall thoughts- the offensive line is always a topic and you guys have a lot of good competition at running back. Just your overall thoughts on what you’re expecting Saturday.
“Well, I think we’ve progressed. We talked about coming out of the spring and as we started fall camp it needed to be practice #16 for us and it was and we’ve gotten better each and every practice. Now, you’re not going to see it all of the time. We’re not where we need to be as a whole unit. We get it right in spurts. The biggest thing right now is to find consistency in performance across the board but like you said, the one thing we have been able to do is create competition across the board and we are getting better.”
Is there a spot where you see a lot of competition at? Or you said you guys have it in spurts, where are you guys lacking and where are you guys doing well?
“Well, I think across positions you can see it at every position and we find that we can do things very, very well when we do them well and we go in stretches where we play together and we play well together and then we’ll have either a unit or an individual break down and that’s the part about playing football and playing at a very, very high level. You’ve got to have consistency and everybody doing the right thing on every play.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people are a little apprehensive of the offensive line and I wonder if your feeling from when you first got here until now, if that has changed and how much it’s changed because I assume you were somewhat apprehensive as well.
“Well, I’ve said it many times but there seems to be a focus on a unit on every team, a strength here or a weakness there. A lot of that’s perception, too. You talk about a quarterback position, for example. If a quarterback’s not being protected a lot of times it doesn’t look like he’s playing very well when at the end of the day it doesn’t really fall on the quarterback. When you look at an offensive line group there’s a lot of things that play into it. A lot of it has to do with the backs and the running game, making sure they hit the right hole, it has to do with the quarterback getting us into the right play so that we can get good angles for blocking schemes, it has to do with receivers winning at the line of scrimmage in press coverage so that the quarterback can get the ball out in time so that we’re not holding the ball so there’s a lot of factors that play into each and every group and that’s why it is a team game. Every unit we have takes pride in how they play and we all demand that each unit does their job and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
We saw that Derrick Green is at the top of the running back depth chart. What did he do in the last week or two to put himself there and separate himself?
“I think it’s been the overall body of work through camp and everything we try to do. We tell the players there’s going to be evidence-based decisions by what you put on film and what you do on a day-to-day basis and Derrick continually progressed and he continues to progress. Like I said before, as an offense and even at that position we’re nowhere near where we need to be or where we want to be but as far as when you look at the process of getting better each and every day and how you approach the day and he’s just continued to get better each and every day. We’ve talked a lot about his weight as he came into camp and that’s been one of the biggest things. He looks like a different back.”
What are your thoughts about the wide receivers? It seems like that’s a position group of strength, a lot of depth there. Is there any particular guy that stood out to you or just your thoughts on the receivers?
“Well, obviously [Devin] Funch[ess], his production speaks for itself. Very, very talented player. Like we talked about, you want to create depth and competition at every position and we feel like we have a good talent base there. A lot of different guys that can do different things and the goal will be ultimately to keep guys fresh and put guys in the right position where they can make plays.”
[After THE JUMP: more on the running backs, Devin Gardner’s growth, and all aboard the Mason Cole hype train]
News bullets and other items:
Captains will be voted on after the Ohio State game, with seniors representing the team at each coin toss
The depth chart was released prior to the presser. Read Ace’s take on it here.
Injury update: Kyle Kalis is fully healthy, while Delano Hill is meeting with doctors this afternoon to determine whether he can play Saturday
Hoke raved about Devin Gardner’s progression on the field and as a team leader
Ty Isaac’s status is still uncertain; they’re waiting to hear back about the appeal
The freshman and sophomore classes have an edge to them. Hoke does not know that he has said edge.
Brady Hoke “Well,…” count: 12
[After THE JUMP: a mini scouting report on Appalachian State, Devin Gardner’s development, and the captain situation (or lack thereof) explained]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This Preview, Last Year
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||So.||Derrick Green||So.||Drake Johnson||So.*|
|Derrick Green||So.||De'Veon Smith||So.||Justice Hayes||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||So.*||Wyatt Shallman||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||So.|
How did Michigan's current tailbacks do last year? I don't know and they don't either. The situation on the line and Fitzgerald Toussaint sucking up a bunch of carries left Michigan relatively short on snaps to give anyone still around, and then when they got those snaps they were immediately drowned in a pile of opposition bodies.
This was especially bad since Michigan has almost exclusively recruited guys with tree-trunk legs who aren't going to put a Hart move on you. An anonymous opponent talks to Michael Spath at Big Ten Media Days:
"They needed to have a really quick, change-of-direction back, kind of like [Nebraska's] Ameer [Abdullah], but they had two guys that were similar size that were more like the big, physical type. Like Carlos Hyde, but they weren't as fast as Carlos, they didn't have the holes to run through, and they didn't have the vision."
Or that vision was wall-to-wall doom. The jury is emphatically out.
THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER-TYPE SUBSTANCE
Unless Ty Isaac gets his NCAA waiver, something that does not seem likely, Michigan only has four-ish tailbacks on the roster after Ross Douglas's sensible move to slot receiver. Three of those have drawn heavy mention through fall camp, and one seems to be the very tentative #1 back. (Or at least he did until they released the depth chart this morning, but Rome wasn't written in a day, people.)
HAIR ZOOM 2014 [Fuller. Nice resolution, bro!]
That is DE'VEON SMITH [recruiting profile], a ball of muscle Michigan won in a head-to-head battle with Ohio State. Smith had a bit of a Braylon Edwards in him last year… the Braylon who was infamously Not On The Same Page with Lloyd Carr early in his career. Smith was left off the travel roster in early November for obscure reasons—Hoke gruffly explained that "De’Veon didn’t travel because I took him off the travel team"—that turned out to be some major friction about playing time. Smith couldn't understand why he didn't have all of it and had a rep for expressing that point of view… let's say passionately.
It seems like that friction is in the past now. Reports have varied as to who is at the top of the tailback depth chart, but they have varied in who, if anyone, is 1B to Smith's 1A. The BTN guys said Smith was at the top when they visited practice; our insider thought Smith was clearly at the top of the depth chart; Hoke told the assembled media that Smith and Drake Johnson were the top two guys. Then he said Green was the top guy with Smith just behind, and then they were neck and neck. so… yeah. My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
Given Brady Hoke's favorite word other than "well" and its total lack of applicability to the last couple editions of the Michigan ground game, these presser statements are almost a coronation:
"The one thing I know about De’Veon is he’s probably as tough a guy as I’ve been around. His identity is toughness. The way he practices, he’s a guy who can get dinged up but he’s still going to go, and he’s going to go, and he’s going to go."
I'm totally fine with this. I predicted Smith would emerge as the #2 back last year; I preferred him when asked in a mailbag after the season.
I am bullish on him because people complain about his speed, and I like Mike Hart. Speed is an overrated quality for tailbacks because 90% of the time they never approach their top end, and Smith brings a lot of Hart-like qualities to the table.
One is the fact that if you used a giant claw to extract De'Veon Smith from the tumbling melee of a football game, his legs would keep going. Turn him over: still going. Etc. From the Northwestern game:
I liked Smith's "leg churn," as faux NFL draft analysts like to say. He seems to have a knack for keeping his thighs moving as the pile forms around him.
That ability to keep his stride when being harassed was key for his big run against OSU, when he ran through two tackles without even acknowledging their existence.
And since Smith barely got a carry with any room to do anything last year the GIF I asked Ace to pull from Smith's highlight film is still a good representation of his assets:
The man has uncanny balance and the ability to run through tackles. In addition, Smith had a Hart-like aversion to fumbling through his high school career and didn't put one on the turf in his freshman year.
What Smith didn't show in year one was anything approximating Hart's ability to ghost out of tackles he had no right to avoid. Smith needs more help than Hart did and hopes to make it up by being bigger and more powerful once he gets going. That was a major problem last year and might be one again.
The broken record bit: any attempts to predict production here are seriously compromised by the massive question mark on the offensive line. I'm guessing Smith and Green platoon just about down the middle, with neither really emerging into a star; both are decent, and just decent.
[After THE JUMP: Mega-recruit now mega-hulk, the pass-pro brothers, God willing, and a belated appreciation of Vincent Smith.]
It's Football Season
As we prepare for Michigan's opener, high school football is already underway in several states, which means less recruiting news and more useful scouting information as prospects turn their focus back to the field.
2015 LB commit Darrin Kirkland Jr. earned the top grade of any player Josh Helmholdt saw in two games scouting Indiana prospects, as he turned in a four-TFL performance in his squad's seven-point loss to open the season ($):
Performance: Kirkland got off to a strong start in his 2014 campaign, registering four tackles for loss among his 12 total tackles. The Rivals250 prospect was lined up at middle linebacker, but was making plays sideline-to-sideline. He was at his best, though, when he was playing downhill, filling holes and coming off the edge to make plays in the backfield. Kirkland overran a few plays in the flats, but also made several impressive open field tackles on running backs trying to get the edge and made it difficult for Avon's offense to scheme around him.
Scout's Brian Dohn caught 2015 OL commit Jon Runyan Jr. and his St. Joseph's Prep squad scrimmage against Philadelphia Imhotep ($):
Jon Runyan, OL, 6-4, 291
Skinny: Runyan, who is committed to Michigan, plays left tackle and was markedly bigger. He put on 20-plus and now has the strength needed to be dominant this season. He fired off the ball and did a nice job of getting his hands onto the defensive lineman, but he wasn’t as active as he was when in the midst of the grind of the season. He was [solid], but not overwhelming. When he was able to engage the defensive player, Runyan did a good job of finishing the block.
At 6'4", 291, Runyan very much has the look of a future guard.
[After THE JUMP: Michigan's strong presence on the Freep's top 25 list of in-state players, updates on several 2016 prospects, and more.]
It says somethin' about somethin' that Michigan had even the barest semblance of a Quarterback Controversy this offseason. It's not so much that Brady Hoke was going around saying it to people—football coaches' public statement are 95% motivational lies. It's more that a lot of people wanted it to be true.
By the midst of spring practice it seemed like half of the Michigan fanbase had an I WANT TO BELIEVE poster they'd adorned with Shane Morris's head in their room. Beat writers sent out a never-ending stream of WHAT ABOUT THE QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY articles that message boards passed around, nodding sagely about, until yrs truly was twitching every time I checked twitter. Finally, the dam broke:
WHEN IS THE LAST TIME MICHIGAN REPLACED A FIFTH YEAR SENIOR QUARTERBACK WITH AN UNDERCLASSMAN VOLUNTARILY
DON'T LOOK IT UP I'LL TELL YOU NEVER
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT SHANE MORRIS'S PERFORMANCE IN THE BOWL GAME THAT CONVINCES YOU HE'S THE GUY, EXACTLY
THAT ONE SCREEN PASS HE THREW THAT WENT A LONG WAY
OR THAT OTHER SCREEN PASS HE THREW THAT WENT A LONG WAY
OR THAT END AROUND THAT TECHNICALLY COUNTS AS A PASS
THE DUDE AVERAGED 5.2 YPA, WHICH IS THREET/SHERIDAN PRODUCTION
HE THREW AN INTERCEPTION THE INSTANT MICHIGAN LET HIM THROW DOWNFIELD
MICHIGAN SCORED SIX MEANINGFUL POINTS
DEVIN GARDNER WAS 80% DEAD MOST OF THIS YEAR AND STILL HAD 8.6 YPA
That about sums it up. The moment passed, people were yelled at to take their posters down, and Hoke named Gardner the starter in the middle of fall camp. But the discontent still lingers.
[After THE JUMP: SURROUNDED BY THE ENEMY STOP OUR LINES ARE BROKEN STOP SEND LOVE TO MY WIFE STOP]
Dance if you're the starting slot receiver.
Michigan released their game notes for Appalachian State, and they contain the depth chart as it stands right now. Keep in mind that OL Graham Glasgow (suspension), TE Jake Butt (knee), and S Delano Hill (jaw) are omitted—Hill is the only one of the three who could potentially be cleared for action by Saturday.
|MICHIGAN OFFICIAL DEPTH CHART (as of 8/25)|
|QB||D. Gardner||S. Morris|
|RB||D. Green||D. Smith||
D. Johnson OR
|FB||J. Kerridge||S. Houma|
|WR||D. Funchess||A. Darboh|
|WR||J. Chesson||F. Canteen|
|Slot||D. Norfleet||B. Dever|
|TE||A.J. Williams||K. Hill|
|LT||M. Cole||E. Magnuson|
|LG||E. Magnuson||K. Bosch|
|C||J. Miller||P. Kugler|
J. Burzynski OR
|RT||B. Braden||L. Tuley-Tillman|
|SDE||B. Beyer||T. Charlton|
B. Mone OR
|DT||W. Henry||M. Godin|
|WDE||F. Clark||M. Ojemudia|
J. Ryan OR
J. Bolden OR
R. Jenkins-Stone OR
|FS||J. Wilson||A. J. Pearson|
|SS||J. Clark||D. Thomas|
T. Richardson OR
R. Taylor OR
|Nickel||J. Peppers||D. HOLLOWELL|
|P||W. Hagerup||M. Wile|
|K||M. Wile||K. Allen|
|PR||J. Peppers||D. Norfleet|
|KR||D. Norfleet||J. Hayes|
|LS||S. Sypniewski||A. Robinson|
|H||K. Allen||S. Morris|
[Overanalysis section, after the jump]