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.
Karan [Higdon] mentioned you had him watch a lot of NFL tape. Were there any teams you spent time with this offseason or any coaches you worked under?
“I’m close with the Baltimore Ravens’ running backs coach Thomas Hammock but no coach in particular, no team in particular. More so plays, finding NFL examples of plays that we run and just looking through different scenarios, different things that our guys could end up seeing. Just trying to get a lot of experience, mental reps, in terms of watching the pros.”
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you in terms of going with another position?
“That’s a tough question. I mean, it’s all different so I don’t know if there’s a ‘biggest’ adjustment, but new guys and everything but they’ve been great to work with. They’re all working really hard and it’s a really, really good group. Nothing stands out as being any bigger adjustment than anything else.”
How much do you lean on what you saw out of these guys last year or did you come in [with a] clean slate?
“Yeah, none. None at all. It’s a clean slate. I mean, I knew what those guys were because you see them play and everything, but it’s a new season and a relatively new offense in terms of all the things that we’ll do. So, it’s kind of a fresh start for everybody.”
You came in having never coached this position before. Did you play running back at all?
“No. I’m sure you could guess that just by looking at me. I carried the ball a few times growing up. I scored on one, just for what it’s worth.”
[After THE JUMP: development in RB protections, the evolving offense, and what to watch in the spring game]
- Berenson remembered. Wish time didn’t happen; now it’s time to appreciate all that Red gave us, including the best damn hockey ever, Old Yost, and all the Comries.
- Options for next guy—it doesn’t seem like the replacement has been decided, and it seems it’s not Mel anymore. Was it until recently? Yeah? Why not Babcock? Some convincing reasons, including Zach Hyman.
- Miles Bridges stays at State…um…okay…gotta stick around for that Izzo bump I guess. DJ and Moe probably want to go to the NBA Draft but if 24th overall is the ceiling they should probably return.
- Euphemisms that don’t need explaining explained.
- Spring Game: position battles we’re watching.
- OL: Big Mike O gonna be good. If Ruiz isn’t pummeled by the starting DL, pencil him in as a 4-year starter.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
John Beilein has spent ten seasons in Ann Arbor. As of the most recent, he's the winningest coach in program history with 215. He snapped Michigan's post-sanction tournament drought in 2009, the first of seven NCAA appearances with the Wolverines, three of which have extended at least into the second weekend.
In recognition of the above, as well as the need for offseason #content, I've put together a series of All-Beilein teams, inspired by this twitter post and the ensuing conversation. My guidelines:
- I'm attempting to put together the best possible lineups, which isn't necessarily the same as picking the best individual players at each spot.
- I'm choosing individual player vintages (i.e. 2013 Trey Burke). A player can only be chosen once for each category, but different player years (i.e. freshman bench gunner 2014 Zak Irvin and well-rounded senior 2017 Zak Irvin) can be eligible for separate categories.
- Eligibility for certain categories, like today's best bench players, may be slightly fudged because of the limited pool of players.
I'm not putting too many constraints on myself for this exercise since the point is to let our imaginations run wild. Without further ado, here's the first All-Beilein team, which wasn't easy to put together given Beilein's tendency to roll with a tight rotation: the All-Bench squad.
POINT GUARD: 2014-15 SPIKE ALBRECHT
The YMCA Scoop. [Fuller]
We start with the fudged guidelines right away, as Albrecht ended up starting 18 games in this particular season because of Derrick Walton's foot injury. This was the best version of Spike, however, and any of the previous versions would also have earned this spot; between injuries, early draft departures, and the occasional recruiting miss, depth at the point has been hard to come by in the Beilein era.
For the better part of four years, Spike was the exception to that rule. He was an excellent passer. He covered for being undersized by displaying a knack for jumping passing lanes. He did donuts in the lane. He broke out the old-man scoop for critical layups. Most importantly to Beilein's offense, he had defense-extending range and the confidence to hit big shots, after which he just might do the Sam Cassell big balls dance:
Spike was a 41% three-point shooter at Michigan. While he probably would've earned this spot based on one particular half of basketball alone, he did a whole lot more than just light up Louisville.
Honorable Mention: 2008-09 CJ Lee. Another player whose selection is borderline cheating since Lee finished the season as the starter, but he came off the bench in twice as many games as he started as Beilein searched for the right guy between football-player-turned-scholarship-point Kelvin Grady and two walk-ons, Lee and David Merritt. Lee eventually won out by being the most reliable offensive player and best defender.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
Prepare your finest meats
Coach Hoke had a nice feast with the Mone family last night for his in-home visit. pic.twitter.com/DaKu7m8S0q
— Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) December 4, 2013
Oblig meat picture
Michigan is having a massive visit weekend, as people are wont to do during their spring games. They're also having a massive visit Thursday. This is a bit unusual but for whatever reason Michigan has a handful of top 2019 prospects on hand today: MO ATH Isaiah Williams, NJ ATH Ronnie Hickman, KY DT Jacob Lacey, MO WR Marcus Washington, and MO LB Shammond Cooper will all be on campus today per Lorenz. The most modestly-ranked of these gentlemen is Cooper, the #127 prospect in the 2019 composite.
But wait, there's more: brothers Dyami and Khafre Brown out of North Carolina are also scheduled to be on campus; Dyami is an '18 WR/DB and Khafre is a '19 RB. Both are four stars in their respective classes. Michigan's also hosting 3* dual-threat 2018 QB James Graham out of Georgia; Lorenz say he is a take because he is a "unique" prospect in search of an offensive fit.
It's unlikely that Michigan gets a commit out of any of those guys but it would not surprise if a few of them emerge as serious targets, with one or two even expected to join the class sometime down the road. Michigan is doing work with on-campus visits these days. Take the recruitment of GA RB Christian Turner, who arrived in Ann Arbor as a silent ND commit:
In fact, it was, as Steve Wiltfong posted here yesterday, a done deal to Notre Dame coming out of his unofficial visit. However, Michigan worked some real magic on their opportunity with him, making this one a surprise commitment in my opinion, but a good one.
They've popped up out of nowhere for a number of guys, most notably Aubrey Solomon, in the last year.
So. Wiltfong has an early Michigan CB in for Williams, the #51 player in the 2019 class, FWIW, with Oregon the challenger. ND is the favorite for Lacey on the crystal ball but the vibe coming out of the Cleveland Nike camp is that Michigan has a shot to make the proverbial "move" today. Sounded like it when he talked to Scout's Josh Newkirk:
“It would mean the world,” Lacey said. “Michigan has always been a great program. I love the way they play defense. They always win and that’s what I love about it.”
Adding an offer would put Michigan in a prime spot in his recruitment too.
“They would definitely be towards the top,” Lacey said. “Jim Harbaugh is a great coach. There is nothing terrible about Michigan at all, they win, they have great academics, I can’t wait to go.”
Lacey's a straight A student with a brother at Army so he's a M/ND sort.
Gant visit saga
After an initial reports that OH LB Dallas Gant was undecided on a spring game visit between Ohio State and Michigan, he was first supposed to go to Ann Arbor, and then up in the air again, and now expected in Columbus. So there's that. Lorenz got the vibe that Gant's top two might be Michigan and Notre Dame, which is a thing when he's got only OSU predictions on his crystal ball; the OSU visit suggests that might not be the case.
Since Gant is in Toledo he can pop up for a visit whenever he wants; if he does so before his commitment then Michigan has a very good shot. If not it's happy trails.
Hopes not particularly up section
5* CA WR Jalen Hall is one of those California kids everyone assumes is going to USC because they always go to USC, but he says he's not necessarily going to USC:
“Everybody says ‘USC,’ and that may be the case, and it may not be the case,” Hall said.
I still think he's going to USC, but Michigan has been the destination for multiple trips already:
“Michigan is for sure in there,” Hall said. “I visited twice and I plan on visiting again. Every time I go down there, everything has been cool. I just want to talk more football with them and see more about the school.”
He's still going to USC, but Donovan Warren does happen?
Elsewhere in shaking our fists at Los Angeles-area schools, it feels like most people are resigning themselves to UCLA commitments for the Bishop Gorman duo of NV TE Brevin Jordan and NV QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Lorenz admits that Michigan "has their work cut out for them" on Jordan's spring game unofficial, which also starts today. Meanwhile, Thompson-Robinson may have his mind made up already:
The "nation's top uncommitted QB" won't be uncommitted for too much longer ...
— DTR. (@DoriansTweets) April 13, 2017
Sam Webb was feeling UCLA a week or so ago and hasn't changed his tune, so it'll take one of those real good visits to overturn things here. Possible, but not probable.
If DTR's recruitment does lead him to Westwood, it probably won't take long for Michigan to find its guy: AZ QB Tyler Shough has locked in an unofficial for May 13th. Meanwhile this is an interesting development for FL QB Joe Milton, who just fielded a UGA crystal ball from a Florida 247 mod:
Just not convinced he goes to UF.
Didn't attend UF's spring game. Will be at Michigan this weekend, who might crank up the heat if Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks to be heading to UCLA. UGA has been after him hard. Overall, the recruitment is somewhat unknown, but I wanted to make a pick other than 'foggy' and UGA seemed like the best option.
That's a "not Florida" pick more than a UGA pick and with Milton on campus at the same time DTR is they could easily exit that visit with a big lead.
Michigan's got a small class on the horizon and plenty of tailbacks so I'm guessing that GA RB Christian Turner's commit closes the door for other tailbacks. Michigan might continue to recruit a few because crootin'. AL RB Asa Martin said he would take a spring visit a week or so ago; we'll see if that's still on. 3* ATH Michael Barrett is a high school quarterback who Michigan recently offered...
— MB1️⃣ (@mikebarrett_MB1) March 29, 2017
...and Wiltfong says Michigan has a "great shot" with him. He might be a DB for Michigan; if he's a running back going to be a tight fit.
Additional grudging 2019 bits
Here's a MI OL Devontae Dobbs highlight reel that's kind of good for a sophomore:
— Devontae Dobbs (@Devontae_Dobbs) April 1, 2017
Wiltfong runs down the current status for various top 2019 kids and Michigan comes in for a few mentions. He still believes Michigan leads for GA DT Chris Hinton. Good news and bad news: he is visiting Stanford this weekend and has ND and Cal on his lists so this is a very academics-focused gentleman who seems relatively easy to pry out of the south. Bad news: visiting Stanford, and those jerkos have a tendency to grab prospects who are prime material in Ann Arbor.
CA DE Kayvon Thibodeaux is another USC-USC-USC guy early, which Wiltfong confirms, but he and his 4* 2019 teammate Charles Mincy Jr apparently "love Harbaugh," and Donovan Warren does happen I guess?
Michigan does not draw mention for GA LB Owen Pappoe or CA QB JT Daniels, both five stars who have had some interest in the past.
4* VA LB/DE Brandon Smith attended a satellite camp last year and is into Michigan as a result:
“I’d love to visit Michigan and am hoping to hear from them,” Smith told Wolverine247 on Monday. “I had a chance to meet Coach Harbaugh at the Old Dominion satellite camp last summer. It was a great camp. Coach Harbaugh brings a lot of energy and I really enjoyed it.”
4* OH SDE Zach Harrison recently visited:
“I’d like to go back for another visit,” he said. “I don’t know when yet, though. I’ll probably make it back for a game, because my grandparents are up there.”
Still early in his recruitment; he says he spent his youth climbing trees instead of watching football so he'll be open to anyone.
Tyree Kinnel has been playing free safety and Josh Metellus has been playing Rover (strong safety). If the season started today, those are your starters
Rotating guys is always an option; Kinnel and Metellus played both positions last year (and Metellus played some VIPER, too)
The biggest challenge for Smith this spring has been getting the safeties to “open up and communicate.” The natural ability is there, but their communication skills (i.e. getting everyone lined up) are being refined.
How enjoyable has it been for you this spring with all the new faces you’ve had to coach and get used to?
“It’s been really enjoyable. Like you said, we’ve had a lot of new guys in the room, a lot of young guys that don’t have much experience, but they’re eager to learn. They’re starting from square one so they’re listening to everything you tell them. They’re holding on to it, so it’s been good so far.”
Who has stood out?
“Well, from the safety position, I think J’Marick Woods has had an outstanding spring. He’s kind of earning his nickname; we call him Woods because he brings the wood. He’s a physical player, he’s a hitter…I mean, he’s what you look for back there. He’s got good range and some other things he needs to work on still, but he’s shown a lot of potential and enthusiasm for the game.
“Jaylen Kelly-Powell, he’s done a nice job. He comes in from a good high school program. He’s been well-coached. He’s really technically sound for a young defensive back. His man-to-man skills are definitely there. They flash. He’s done a nice job so far.”
For Khaleke [Hudson] and Josh [Metellus], for them to be kind of moving back and forth between safety and that VIPER position, does that help them or does it hurt them not being able to focus on one spot?
“I think it helps them. After last year having a whole season under their belts just playing one position for Khaleke, now having to play another position, I think it gives him a better understanding of the defense. You know, once you play different positions, things start to make sense and they come together. You see the big picture. I think it’ll help them definitely in the long run. I think VIPER’s a good position for him with his physical traits, Khaleke, and I think he’s done a nice job so far.”
[After THE JUMP: the differences between a Rover and VIPER, and what the staff looks for when recruiting those positions]