“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
Extremely tentative starters/base alignment
Michigan's spring game happened. As per usual, there were things to generate text about, e.g. Gardner going 2/8 with two interceptions was tailor-made for lazy columnists hoping to get some play from a false QB controversy. Actual information-like-substance is somewhat less available, and even the things that are trackable are not to be trusted.
But this is Spring(!), when we take the selective, incomplete microcosm that they deign to show us and extrapolate from it the meaning of the universe. So I decided to go one step further, choosing a single play to make sweeping judgments about Michigan's new offense, the 2014 defense, and the future of human civilization that hangs in the balance.
The screencap above was from the first play that was broadcast, following Gardner's interception, a play with Morris and the twos, and a run with the 3rd stringers. Let's pick it apart.
Offense: Houma lined up as a U-back and then motioned into an offset fullback or H-back position on the strongside, strongly suggesting a run to that side. They instead ran a quick curl to Funchess. The line pass-blocked, with just Deveon Smith staying in to help them.
Defense: The good ol' 4-3 under. When the U-back went in motion, Clark spread out a bit to give him better leverage for a supposed one-on-one battle with the RT—if Houma hadn't gone in motion Clark was going to be responsible for him. The play is zone blitz; Ryan is coming, Wilson comes down to a robber zone, and Clark dropped into a zone on the backside. The corners and FS are playing a Cover 3. This is "aggressive" defense only because the DL's gaps are not in front of them, and there's five guys coming. The frontside "C" gap will have Jarrod Wilson, and all other gaps are covered. Or should be…
What happened: You'll note that Glasgow and Ryan ended up in the same "A" gap. That wasn't by design; Jack Miller was looking for the 3-tech or a WLB blitz, even after it was clear Godin was stunting and Bolden wasn't coming. With the OL pass-blocking, Glasgow abandoned his gap and ran unblocked to the quarterback.
This means Miller was right where Glasgow was supposed to go, but blocking nobody. Since that is Glasgow it was enough time to get a quick pass off, but if that was Mike Martin (or Willie Henry) it would have been a spectacular sack. Cole handled Beyer, and Bosch actually got a good sideways kick at Ryan that knocked him into Glasgow, giving Garner just enough time to get rid of the football. Since the CBs were in cov 3, Funchess was open underneath.
Also: RJS was playing SAM right, setting up to take on a fullback block in case of a run, then attacking when Houma didn't seem interested in contact. De'Veon Smith was set up to block him, but the play was over before we got to see how that went.
Offensive line: As expected, just as frustrating as it was last year. Miller didn't adjust to what was in front of him and that gave the nose tackle (of all people) a clear path to the quarterback despite good blocks. This play is a good example of how a good offensive line's communication and experience could bail them out against weird things, and vice versa. The more snaps Miller and Bosch see together, the better they'll be able to wordlessly shift their pass blocking assignments when they see a blitz is coming at the gap between them.
Routes: The frontside was a triangle with Canteen squatting between zones, Heitzman running the seam, and Houma leaking into the flat. The backside curl was an outlet pass. The frontside guys ran good routes—notice how Houma broke a bit more to the sideline when he saw Raymon Taylor had his zone. That widened Taylor and provided a spot between his zone and Wilson's for Canteen to settle into. Funchess's route was an outlet
How'd they get the 1st down: Experienced senior quarterback Devin Gardner recognized he needed to get the ball off, saw his outlet open underneath, and got it to Funchess with time to turn; big Funchess versus a cornerback means there's gonna be YAC.
How Borges is this? If that personnel seems not very different than what Michigan did a lot of last year, that's because it isn't a very big departure from it. Having guys like Houma and Heitzman in there as opposed to NORFLEET!, or just about any receiver, was a constant complaint with Borges. It's more defendable given that Darboh (and Drake Harris) were unavailable, so after Chesson you're getting into the Jones/Dukes/York/Dever receivers who aren't any more of a matchup problem than the catchy-blocky dudes.
This Ace 2TE thing was the base formation. Often both TEs would have their hands down to make a truly balanced formation. Heitzman and A.J. Williams traded off first team duties, and your second-team catchy-runny-blocky guys were Khalid Hill at Y-tight end and Joe Kerridge at U-back. Almost every running play was zone blocked. If Nussmeier's plan is to go back to his Washington offense it wasn't evident here; this was the same offense Bama ran in its bowl game (my UFR of that).
A run look to a side with Heitzman/Cole/Bosch is going to be even less scary than it was last year with at least Lewan in there, but I was still encouraged by the show. For one, these guys are all doing something their skill set suggests they should, with the exceptions of Heitzman's unknown quality as a receiver and De'Veon Smith's as a blocker. And for once they decided to do something catchy-blocky with Houma. Putting him in motion effectively changed his matchup from the WDE to the SAM, which isn't much of a change against Michigan's 4-3, but could be a mismatch if the SAM, as is often the case these days, was more of a safety-like object. And it also changed a balanced Ace formation into an offset I-form, which screams a run in that direction.
My stomach gave a decidedly strong vote against my attending Saturday's Spring Game, so in lieu of watching from the press box I took in the Big Ten Network's telecast. This may have been less informative than skipping the Spring Game altogether.
Granted, it's difficult to make a glorified practice very interesting, even for Michigan die-hards. That said, the BTN totally missed the mark with their broadcast, failing the viewers in almost every regard to a comical extent.
Know Your Audience (Or: Show The Dang Play)
Let's take a look at some catching drills...
...or not, I guess.
Instead of showing or explaining the first hour of drill after drill, the network decided to show a whole lot of stuff like the video above: completely useless angles with a heavy dose of cutaways to coaches, current players the announcers happened to be discussing—even if they were just standing around—and former players on the sideline.* Click on those GIFs. It's as if an ADHD-stricken toddler hit buttons at random in the control booth.
Even when the cameras stayed focused on the field, it was obvious the BTN director had no idea what he was watching, which seems like it should be a prerequisite for directing a football telecast. If I had to boil down the BTN's effort into one video, it's this one:
In that same vein, check out this spectacular run by Justice Hayes.
The director also filled time with sideline interviews with Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard, two players who are instantly recognizable to any college football fan who's graduated elementary school. That didn't stop the BTN cameras from staying locked on the interviewees while actual football happened on the field.
We know what Michigan's last two Heisman winners look like, and yes, it's possible to play audio of an interview without actually showing video of the interview. This may come as a shock to some, namely whomever was in charge of this broadcast.
The actual scrimmage stuff wasn't much better, though they at least caught most of the plays on camera. Well, one camera, at least. Jourdan Lewis's impressive interception of Devin Gardner on the first play got one replay angle—a slow-motion version of the original broadcast angle, which failed to show anything in the secondary until Lewis caught the ball.
If you watched this for the purpose of learning about the team, you have my sympathy. If you watched this for any other purpose, you've made me very confused.
"People in charge of things are just in charge of them for no reason" tag deployed with vigor. Well done, BTN director.
*The GIF at the top of the post features the back of Charles Woodson's head, if you can't tell, which is quite understandable.
[Hit THE JUMP for the only quote Doug Karsch needs to make his case for the vacant play-by-play spot, the quarterback "controversy" in one highlight package, and the end of the scrimmage that wasn't actually the end of the scrimmage.]
Hoke says Michigan really didn't find its top five offensive linemen this spring. And really isn't close to finding them either.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 5, 2014
WELP. In a word, Michigan's offense was ominous. It was ominous—worse than that—in Hoke's first year, though, and that worked out okay as long as Al Borges wasn't trying to make Denard Robinson into a pocket passer. Standard disclaimer about information value of spring.
That stated, yeesh. We knew the situation at tackle was going to be iffy, especially with Magnuson out. Having Mason Cole as the first option at the most important spot on the line was beyond those expectations. Meanwhile, Michigan is prepping the only remaining guy who started every game last year (Graham Glasgow) at right tackle, which they'll say is just precautionary but speaks of some trepidation about Ben Braden. I do not want there to be trepidation about Ben Braden.
Hoke did not mince words when asked if they thought they'd found their best five:
"I don't know if we can say that, honestly," Hoke said. "I know I can't.
"So, I guess the answer is no."
Are the Wolverines even close, really, to identifying the best five?
"No," Hoke said. "Not yet."
That was apparent on the field, where runs generally got to the line of scrimmage (hooray!) and no further (mutter). Pass protection was close to nonexistent. It was what everyone expected, which was bad. They've got five months to figure it out, whereupon they probably won't figure it out. Digging out of a hole as big as Michigan dug last year is a two-year operation.
Quarterbacking. Gardner was just two of ten, but Morris was hardly better. Gardner's interception was at least at his receiver; Morris threw one directly into Lewis's chest. In the aftermath there were the usual quotes about how it's an open competition, but, yeah, when the Big Ten Network's main Morris highlight is a pass thrown behind the line of scrimmage that guy isn't displacing a quarterback who averaged 8.6 YPA last year and can run.
Neither quarterback was helped by the pass protection, which forced them to move around and let Michigan's secondary recover. Gardner's move and re-set on one throw allowed Jarrod Wilson to get over to Canteen on a corner route, for example. We have a ton of Gardner data from a year and a half as the starting quarterback. One spring outing isn't going to move the needle.
Speight didn't do much; Bellomy didn't look better than he did against Nebraska.
Hayes should be a legit option. [Fuller]
Tailbacking. On the few runs on which tailbacks had an opportunity to do something notable it was usually Justice Hayes doing the notable thing. He had a couple of quality cuts in tight areas that got him a nice chunk. Derrick Green had one bounce outside on which he seemed quicker than last year but still not particularly quick; De'Veon Smith also turned in a leg-churning run.
They're all about even, it seems. Michigan will cycle through them looking for one to break out. That's a tough ask given the line. It's platoon time. Michigan still seems to insist that anyone who does not resemble a moose must be relegated to third downs:
"Right now, if we're not in a third down situation, it's De'Veon and Derrick. And then Justice if we get into third down."
There's no reason that Hayes shouldn't be given a look as the feature back after last year's lack of production all around and his evident ability. He was no slouch as a recruit, and being able to pick through traffic is a nice skill to have. You get the impression that Hoke would ride David Underwood for years before even considering Mike Hart. Size isn't everything. Ask the Kansas State team that just eviscerated you with a 5'8" tailback and 5'11" wide receiver.
It's also time for Fred Jackson to preach the simplicity line and throw shade on Al Borges:
"Guys are more consistent now with their reads, going from point A to point B with protections," Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said last week on WTKA-AM in Ann Arbor. "By not having a ton of protections and a ton of different runs, it allows the guys to be more consistent in what they're doing."
/waves tiny flag
Of course, the main problem with the blitz pickups last year was not so much the tailback going to the wrong spot but what happened when he met the blitzer. That's on Jackson, not Borges. The thing about not doing every possible thing is great—I've heard that Michigan had 13 different protection schemes last year. 13!
MOS EISLEY FTW [Eric Upchurch]
Something about a wretched hive of scum and villainy I can't quite figure out. Freddy Canteen went from freshman to Manningham in the space of 15 practices, starting the day opposite Devin Funchess, making the one deep catch of the scrimmage session, and smoking Blake Countess over the top on another pass that Gardner threw short. Countess caught up; it was still reminiscent of 86.
Also reminiscent of 86, at least as a freshman: people screaming at Canteen about where to line up pre-snap. There was one memorable play in Manningham's freshman year where Fred Jackson was having a conniption fit on the sideline trying to get Manningham to relocate himself; Manningham did not and scored a touchdown anyway. Canteen dredged that memory up on Saturday.
Spring depth etc., but passing Jehu Chesson after a promising freshman year from him is a real thing. The tea leaves here suggest Canteen is the real deal—Michigan does not need a WR savior and has a veritable avalanche of bodies they can put on the outside. Canteen rocketed past last year's WR class and Chesson in 15 practices. It would be easy for Michigan to talk him up and throw him in the slot; instead they appear to be prepping him for a major role on the outside.
"I've been at slot and outside receiver, (I'm comfortable) at both, but I'll play probably more outside," Canteen said. "(I want to be a playmaker), to be honest. I just want to make plays."
Darboh and Chesson will also figure in; with Funchess that gives Michigan four guys with production or hype or both to their name. They're suddenly flush. With York and Dukes—who made a nice diving catch—also available, it seems like Drake Harris and Moe Ways should redshirt.
Let's think about the guy like a football player instead of a traveling circus. I can only assume the light deployment of Dennis Norfleet was for cackling-about-your-mad-plan-in-your-underground-lair reasons. It was encouraging to see them throw an actual route his way, a wheel on which Jourdan Lewis took an unnecessary pass interference flag on an overthrown ball. I support the integration of Dennis Norfleet into the base offense instead of having a completely separate Norfleet offense that always results in him getting the ball going laterally.
Hooray for efficiency. One of the most disconcerting things about Michigan's spring activity is how much standing around there is. For many, they're setting a countable hour on fire. This is apparently not how it works behind closed doors:
"Practices are really fast, we get a lot of reps," Gardner said. "This was probably the fastest practice I've ever been a part of."
There's been plenty of talk about the overall pace Nussmeier -- Michigan's first-year offensive coordinator -- works with in practice, and the overall level of tempo he chooses to play with during games.
Practices are quick. When a play ends, the next group -- according to players -- is expected to be out of the huddle and ready to snap the ball for the next rep. That concept is a simple one: It creates more reps, and for a young team, the more reps the better.
For any team, really. And that should serve Michigan well when they want to change the tempo, something Borges teams were mind-bendingly awful at. Here's a manna from heaven quote:
"I think the biggest thing, you always want to be able to control the tempo on offense -- whether that's to speed the game up or slow the game down," Nussmeier said during an interview with WTKA-AM 1050 in Ann Arbor on Thursday. "We practice at a fast tempo for a lot of reasons. One, it forces our guys to play fast and focus and always concentrate.
"And it also allows us to pick the tempo of the game up (if we need to)."
Random Mone quote I missed yesterday. This is an epic nonquote.
"I'm just having fun, being blessed," he said. "Just having fun playing the game is what I think my teammates have noticed. My enthusiasm is the main thing I bring to the field."
Our THREE weapons are having fun, being blessed, and having enthusiasm!
WE MUST MAN THE BARRICADES OR OUR FATE IS SEALED
The experience of being at the spring game was not a pleasant one. Brandon further pushed the limits of his promise not to put advertising in Michigan Stadium (a promise he's already broken in a dozen different ways) with large videoboard ads for Comcast and Allstate. There was also some dude kicking a field goal sponsored by PNC. Dude is just itching to turn Michigan's gameday experience into OSU or MSU where the scoreboard looks like a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit and each play is brought to you by Depends Adult Undergarments.
More maddening was the constant—and I mean constant—wedding DJ music, which only dropped out for brief periods in which the band was suffered to play. By the end of the day it appeared like the band just said "screw it, we're playing" and went about fifteen minutes straight. This was a merciful relief.
The music combined with the punting drill section of the day was typical Michigan at this point: we'll be shitty to you, fans, but here is this awesome guitar riff! Hunter Lochmann apparently believes that any deficit can be obscured by music. If things go poorly this season expect them to try two songs at once for the entirety of the Penn State game. One of them will be Phil Collins, because that's the soul of football.
The contrast between the NCAA tournament regional the week before and the spring game could not have been greater. The tournament is a great event the NCAA gets out of the way of. Michigan has a crappy event they try to dress up. Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course. Michigan remain focused on one thing and one thing only: strip-mining revenue from the banks of fan loyalty like it is an infinite resource.
Any things they do that are actually fan-friendly, like bringing in a slightly less rank standard of nonconference opponent, are because they have reached the limit of their ability to strip-mine. Michigan reminded fans in attendance to renew their season tickets—an announcement that never needed to be made before.
It would be one thing if the people making these decisions did anything but ape whoever their counterparts are in the ECHL. They have no concept of forming an identity to rally around. They just have spreadsheets.
What is this? Folks who cover the USMNT drop lists like this projecting the 23 guys who end up on the next World Cup team. I have appropriated it. Regarding the number of tickets: 22 starters on offense and defense + 2 kickers + nickelback + FLEX TE + fullback.
THIS IS THE POST-SPRING UPDATE: changes! More than I'd like, actually. We've shifted some positions around with the over move and tried to pick through spring hype versus spring hope. Also "he played for 'Bama" hype versus hope.
PACK YOUR BAGS
1. QB Devin Gardner, Sr.* [Last time: 1]
No. No, there is not a quarterback controversy or competition or anything of the sort. No, the spring game means nothing in this regard. For the love of pants, please stop talking about this.
2. MLB Jake Ryan, Sr.* [ Last time: 2]
Shift to over defense kind of makes Ryan a man without a country, so they're going to try to make his country MLB. Skepticism severe around these parts, but that doesn't mean he's going to drop out of the starting lineup. Worst case he ends up playing SAM or DE or something. He'll be on the field. Possibly wondering what he should be doing.
3. WR Devin Funchess, Jr. [Last time: 3]
Spring start was no surprise. Has been officially confirmed a wide receiver forever and ever amen. Matchup nightmare should be frequent motion guy to discombobulate defenses, leap over them to make catches, possibly wiggle a bit in endzone. Fade this man, please. I mean seriously throw him a fade like every sixth play.
One look at the depth chart is enough to tell you he was too low last time. Michigan's only experienced safety, only upperclass safety, only guy who stayed back for most of the spring game as others were tasked with SS duties. He's going to start.
Surprising second-team ABT selection last year did round into a pretty good player by year's end. Much better against the run and capable of providing some pass rush, which was more than anyone else could say. On the cusp of serious breakout.
6. WLB Desmond Morgan, Sr. [Last time: 5]
I'm sticking to my guns. Morgan is the QB of the defense, hits harder than any other LB, and saved M's ass with the athletic INT pictured against UConn. Easily capable of moving to the over's WLB slot, which features a lot of head-banging against Gs. Ignore spring depth. Morgan starts.
Slides to Stevie Brown-style space SAM that operates as quasi-nickel at times. May or may not be well-suited to that, but with line looking like penetrators instead of space eaters that move seems good for him. Gets swallowed by Gs; makes quick reads.
UNLESS SOMETHING STRANGE HAPPENS
8. SDE Brennen Beyer, Sr. [Last time: 9]
Where he needs to be technically, now needs weight. Won't star, but pressure from behind is not severe. M moved Taco Charlton to this spot, which is odd, and moved Keith Heitzman away from it. Hopes to end his career Craig Roh 2.0. Over SDE less of a DT than under, so that helps.
9. FLEX Jake Butt, So. [Last time: 10]
Tore ACL but word is that he's going to be back after a few games so we'll leave him here, and leave him high because no one else is going to be able to do the things he can. Capable receiver was also best inline blocker for M last year despite being 230 pound freshman; stardom beckons if the knee is all right.
10. NT Willie Henry, So.* [Last time: 11]
Pipkins injury forced move to nose tackle, where he languishes on fake spring depth chart. That gets five fakes out of five from this site. Hugely strong; get a sword of Pad Level +5 and he will star. Heavy rotation likely to feature Henry first off, move into Pipkins and Bryan Mone.
11. K Matt Wile, Sr. [Last Time: 12]
Gibbons graduates, leaving Wile the presumed starter at kicker. Has a bigger leg; does not have a track record of being automatic from within 42 yards give or take a shaky four-game sequence in his senior year. Will also handle kickoffs and at least pooch punting.
You have one job, Doug Nussmeier. Okay you've got like 50, but one of those jobs is to get to ball to this dude in space and see what happens. Was targeted on wheel route in spring game, which is fine, but seriously just try to get some cheap yards here.
FAIRLY SAFE BET
13. CB Blake Countess, Jr* [Last time: 4]
Welcome to cornerback row. Generally the further down you get here the more nervous you are about the slot; in this situation it is the opposite: Michigan has so many good options that this space has bumped Jabrill Peppers in favor of…
…the sticky-fingered sophomore who started over Countess and picked off a couple passes in the spring game. Lewis was right there as a freshman and any increment was going to make him good; now suited to Michigan's press style he demands playing time, possibly from…
…a guy who has started for two years and turned in a number of big plays a year ago. Taylor seems most vulnerable because he has not played nickel; realistically everyone gets playing time. Oh, and Peppers. Can he play OL?
16. G Graham Glasgow, Jr* [Last time: 16]
Will miss opener after offseason driving incident. Was most recently playing RT(!), which says that Michigan is open to moving him around what with this Chad Lindsay fellow maybe arriving. Showed ability to play G last year; will be on field, but where is unknown.
17. T Erik Magnuson, So.* [Last time: 17]
Spring absence did nothing to upset presumed death lock on left tackle job since by the spring scrimmage his replacement was true freshman Mason Cole. Hopefully can get up to 300 or so pounds despite the injury; M needs more POWER anywhere they can get it.
Visited for spring, saw… that, has ton of experience with Nussmeier, started four games for 'Bama last year. Hard to say a fifth-year transfer is a lock, but… uh… he's not coming here to play cribbage. Unless he thinks that would help.
19. P Will Hagerup, Sr.* [Last time: 27]
Still on pace to return this fall so we're moving him up from the bottom. This is so the bottom can be, like, all offensive linemen. Because that is both objective and emotional reality. Anyway, Hagerup is once again booming punts off the Glick ceiling because he has a massive leg cannon. Consistency, as always, is the bugaboo.
IN A BATTLE
Avalanche of spring hype offset by fact he still has no idea what to do; EE helpful in that regard. Jungle beats. Quick feet, quick hands, quick person. Jungle beats. Manningham 2.0? Let's hope so. Passed Chesson to start spring but still has to hold both him and Amara Darboh off; blocking could be an issue for wisp-thin FR.
More prominent than Wormley/Strobel in spring, so let's give him the tentative nod in a platoon situation. Has been getting way more insider buzz than either competitor thanks to Mike Martin-esque first step; at three tech can go one on one more often.
Moved immediately after bowl game and had apparently passed AJ Williams by spring. If he can block adequately will be large upgrade on that position's production from last year. Probably not useful in the receiving game; Michigan doesn't need him to be.
Hayes leaps into this spot after taking the first and most effective snaps in the spring scrimmage. Sometimes running back is about more than who has the tree-trunkiest thighs. Ask Mike Hart. (Actually, don't. Thighs for days.) Catching out of backfield a strength Nussmeier might use.
24. S Jeremy Clark, So.* [Last time: 23]
Still giving Clark the spot here but by this point these are the spots on the depth chart at which the coaches could tell you honestly that they have no idea. Clark, Dymonte Thomas, and Hill are all in the mix, as they say, and no one has tried to climb out of the bowl yet.
At this point Kerridge is a placeholder for what will be a diverse array of FB/HB back types ranging from pure FB Kerridge to FB/RB Shallman to FB/TE Hill, and then there's Sione Houma, who's kind of all of that plus amazing hair.
26. T Ben Braden, So.* [Last time: 26]
Still the presumed starter at right tackle but presence of Glasgow outside hints that Michigan may be looking at other options. Was too slow-footed to play guard; can he hold up in pass protection well enough to play tackle? Enormousness makes you hope so. Road grader if he works out.
27. G Kyle Bosch, So. [Last time: 25]
Under assumption that Lindsay comes in, Glasgow displaces one of Braden/Bosch/Kalis. Random guess here is that it's Kalis because Bosch should improve more as younger guy but your guess is as good as mine. So is Hoke's.
PUSHING FROM BEHIND
QB Shane Morris—Hosing hoser has cannon, occasionally uses it to throw things directly to Jourdan Lewis.
QB Wilton Speight—Navarre type wobbly in spring.
RB DeVeon Smith—occasionally looks like a promising grinder.
RB Derrick Green—lost the weight; had a nice bounce in spring game.
RB Drake Johnson—still recovering from ACL tear.
C Jack Miller—veteran presence provides options.
C Patrick Kugler—still behind Miller in spring.
G Kyle Kalis—battle for starting job will go to opening day.
G David Dawson—practiced at both tackle spots since arrival, now at guard. Likely to be one of top options should Michigan turn to bench.
T Logan Tuley-Tillman—looks part; still needs time to act it.
T Mason Cole—good for Cole that he was so prominent in spring as FR; bad for Michigan.
WR Jehu Chesson—had some promise in freshman season; punishing blocker for size.
WR Amara Darboh—still recovering from foot issue.
WR DaMario Jones—could push for some PT in slot.
NT Ondre Pipkins—hyped recruit got ACL tear at worst possible time. Could push through Henry. NT is platoon city, so not a huge distinction.
NT Bryan Mone—I've been waiting for a large Tongan DL my whole life.
SDE Henry Poggi—SDE now, still needs some time.
SDE Taco Charlton—Still adapting to new spot.
3T Tom Strobel—assume he plays SDE this year; buried as a 3T.
3T Chris Wormley—will at least platoon.
WDE Mario Ojemudia—will spot Clark.
SAM Royce Jenkins-Stone—over move very good for him as it makes his size an asset.
SAM Allen Gant—ditto Gant.
WLB Joe Bolden—nominal starter next to Ryan in spring, but has to hit/cover someone to hold that distinction.
WLB Ben Gedeon—freak athlete had some playing time late in the season.
CB Jabrill Peppers—you may have heard of this dude.
CB Channing Stribling—will be good if he just stops phasing out.
S Delano Hill—strong safety type has hitter's reputation, may be good fit w/ Wilson.
S Dymonte Thomas—burned redshirt to block that one punt; still raw.
Three New Offers
After seeing coveted four-star 2015 IN LB Josh Barajas make a surprise commitment to Penn State a couple weeks ago, Michigan didn't wait long to offer two more four-star Hoosier State linebackers: Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Asmar Bilal. Brandon has the full rundown on both of those offers, as well as a third that went out over the weekend to 2016 WI OT Ben Bredeson, who's expected to be one of the top-ranked linemen in his class.
While the recruitments of Bilal and (especially) Bredeson should take a while to play out, Kirkland plans to announce his decision on May 30th, and his top group is murky; Penn State and Tennessee appear to stand out along with Michigan among schools that have offered him, and his 247 predictions are all over the place. Kirkland told Brandon he may make another trip to Ann Arbor before his decision. If he does, I like Michigan's chances of landing him; if not, it's quite possible James Franklin continues to tear up the recruiting scene.
[Hit THE JUMP for visitor reactions from the spring game, updates on Sterling Jenkins and Kyonta Stallworth, and more.]
The spring game-type-substance maintained its downward importance trajectory, but as it's the last glimpse of one of the big three sports we'll have until fall we'll talk about it all the same. This year's edition further expanded the punting-drills-and-standing-around section of the practice, so observations are necessarily light on the ground.
It's bad when Doug Karsch can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
This video is in Michigan's traditional zoom-o-vision, so you can't actually tell what Lewis did to get in the position he's in for the first interception.
The tone. Last year's "I like this team" has been replaced.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, but we’re not near good enough as a team to win games in the fourth quarter, which we didn’t do (last season), and play on the road,” said Hoke, entering his fourth season. “We’re a long way from being any good."
That reflects the reality of the program.
Depth chart grain of salt reminder. Spring is a season for motivational devices and experiments and therefore places on the depth chart should be regarded as vague indicators more than anything else. Case in point: Graham Glasgow was your second-team right tackle.
Lewis is in your grill yo [Bryan Fuller]
Very aggressive /teddyKGB. Every offseason for a team without an elite defense features coaches promising increased aggression, whereupon most of them quietly drop that promise when the season rolls around and it turns out that for Defense X being super aggressive is a good way to give up quick touchdowns. The cycle repeats the next offseason.
Michigan is promising aggression, and Mattison is putting his cornerbacks where his mouth is. Lewis:
“It’s huge, just getting hands on guys and trying to intimidate them," Lewis said. "That’s our key point right there -- being physical. That’s what (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison is always talking about, being a physical defense.”
They spent most of the scrimmage session in the grills of Michigan wide receivers, playing MSU-style bump and clutch and grab and run. Word from the coaching clinic is that Michigan is adjusting to the way the game has been called of late. Lewis again:
“He said ‘be physical’,” Lewis said. “But he doesn’t care if it’s great defense and we get a penalty.”
This was highly effective when not drawing two flags on Lewis—the second a dubious one—or that one time the offense got Freddy Canteen lost on a deep corner route. Everything else was contested, and when the ball got to the receiver the corners were making a play on it.
Lewis looked terrific after a spring in which inside practice buzz has heralded him as a major comer; hell, he looked terrific most of last year except for the bit where the opposing quarterback regularly put the ball in the six-inch window perfect coverage provides. In this game he had two interceptions and two flags along with other instances where his presence forced drops or tough catches. The first interception came on the first play of the scrimmage (0:45 above).
The video doesn't do it justice since it kind of looks like Lewis is coming over from a zone. That was pure press man coverage on which he did the one thing the gypsy promised him he'd never do: make a play on the ball after achieving his position.
Is he supplanting? I don't know, man. Usually two returning starters who had the number of excellent interceptions Taylor and Countess did have impregnable positions on the depth chart. This situation is not usual, though, as those guys didn't have impregnable positions even as they were doing that—Taylor was yanked from the starting lineup briefly, even. And the last impression Michigan's coaches have is both guys getting smoked by Tyler Lockett, an impression that Countess might have reinforced when Canteen beat him over the top Manningham-style. (Gardner left the throw short and Countess recovered.)
At the very least the competition here is a real one, unlike, say, quarterback. And corner is a position at which a lot of players will see the field. Lewis has at least claimed a spot in Michigan's nickel package, which is half your snaps these days. Even when not in nickel, Michigan rotated last year and they'll rotate this year. It's likely that Lewis gets as many snaps as the starters whether he is one on paper or not, and then you've got Stribling and Peppers. Delonte Hollowell is hanging around, delivering the occasional hard shot on the unsuspecting.
If the spring game indicates one thing, it's that cornerback is better-stocked than it's been in a long-time. Michigan doesn't have a Woodson (at least until fall, anyway), but I can say without hesitation that I'm more comfortable with Michigan's fifth corner than I usually am with their third. Remember Football Armageddon, when Michigan decided covering a first-round NFL draft pick with Chris Graham was their best option? Yeah. Not so much this year.
Wilson got over the top on a late throw [Bryan Fuller]
Aaaand safety. Much less clarity there, and very little to go on from the game-type section. Michigan spent much of the day rolling whoever wasn't Jarrod Wilson to the line of scrimmage to further their aggression goals, whereupon he would cover a fullback or something or watch as a run play did not get to him.
Wilson did have one nice PBU on a looping ball over the top. The ball was late thanks to some pressure that forced Gardner to roll around in the pocket, but that's the kind of ball a safety can make a play on and the play was made.
As far as depth chart stuff goes there was zero clarity. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Delano Hill was slightly preferred. And then I would say "but…" and you would shoot me. Let's not do this gun to the head thing when talking about Michigan's safeties.
The Jake Ryan experiment. First off, the admittedly not-particularly-meaningful spring depth chart gives me the willies. Ryan at MLB, Morgan second-string behind him, Bolden starting, Ross running on the second team at new tinySAM. I am full of the willies.
It's hard to tell much about linebackers in spring, harder yet when the offensive line they're up against is barely releasing to the second level*. On plays where I watched Jake Ryan he looked okay. He's kind of a long, upright guy, so when blockers get into him he tends to let them under him. On the edge he would just juke a guy and explode past him; in the middle you have to take the block on because picking the wrong side of the guy means you just blew your run fit.
I'm not sure where he fits in an over defense, though, so if you're going to make a shift he has to go somewhere.
Meanwhile, Joe Bolden's ample playing time has been mysterious to me. Linebacker remains the hardest position for me to have a Serious Opinion about because there's just so much that goes into it, but the things that Bolden seemed to be screwing up were really obvious things like not being anywhere near your pass drop. Meanwhile when it comes to hitting people in the face and making them stop going forward there is no comparison between Bolden, who has been a drag-you-down tackler to date, and Desmond Morgan, who thumps you and then you stop moving. Michigan's head coach says "toughness" every other word, and Morgan is much closer to that on the field than Bolden.
As a result I've promised to eat a lemon on the internet if Bolden starts the opener over Morgan. The rules: Morgan has to be healthy, Bolden has to start, and Morgan cannot start.
*[Michigan had a great deal of uninspiring runs of 1-3 yards but few TFLs except that one time they put Henry in against the third team OL. This was in large part because the offensive line was doing its damndest to not repeat the mistakes of last year. Instead of popping off opposing DL immediately, they were maintaining doubles longer than you really should. This made life at LB relatively easy and thus many plays where a tailback crosses the line of scrimmage and encounters a pile of men.]
Poggi SDE, Hurst 3-tech, Henry nose on a second or third unit
Line ups and downs. Here the limitations of spring practice overwhelm. Michigan's first-team offensive line read Cole-Bosch-Miller-Kalis-Braden; the second team featured a left tackle with an enormous cast on his hand. Grain of salt, grain of salt, grain of salt.
Anyway, Michigan had a few guys that looked impressive: Bryan Mone entered the backfield with regularity and Maurice Hurst Jr flashed the first step that was the bulk of his recruiting profile. That they've pushed Henry down the depth chart is an excellent sign even if that particular arrangement is clearly motivational after Henry established himself a legit Big Ten player a year ago. Brennen Beyer displayed an excellent ability to discard… uh… true freshman Mason Cole on a number of snaps. Beyer has always been an active hands guy; the question with him is his ability to hold up against 330 pound trucks. A matchup with Cole is not going to answer that.
Michigan got push up the middle of the pocket for large chunks of the scrimmages and while they weren't penetrating on run plays with regularity, see the aside above. When Michigan's options were limited in the half-line drills, they ended up in the backfield more often than not. It seemed like 80% of those runs cut back behind the center, which is a win for the DL in that drill.
As for guys who had bad snaps we will extrapolate much more from than is reasonable: at 2:55 in the video above Derrick Green gets one of Michigan's better runs on the day by bouncing outside; that is there because Glasgow locked up with and drove Henry Poggi well off the ball. Tom Strobel got easily handled on a successful Hayes power play at 2:25; a linebacker wearing a number in the 40s also picked the wrong hole. Also… does anyone know where Chris Wormley was? I don't recall seeing him; I googled to see if anyone had mentioned anything was up with him and came up empty, so I assume he was there but rather anonymous.
I have to punt on other defensive end observations, as I was focusing on the linebackers and secondary for much of the day.
- They're trying to make good on the promise to be aggressive.
- The cornerback depth is terrific and the top end should be quite good.
- Michigan has a solid young core at DT; DE is more uncertain.
- Linebackers… ask again later.