At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Spike Albrecht gutted out this season through two bum hips. [Fuller]
The basketball program announced today that Spike Albrecht underwent surgery on his right hip, and still could undergo a similar procedure on his left hip this offseason. He'll recover for 4-5 months, so while he'll miss much of offseason conditioning, he shouldn't sit out any games in 2015-16. From the official release:
"There is no player tougher than Spike Albrecht," said Beilein. "He proved that this season playing through injury and continual pain in both hips. He never used it as an excuse and I will always admire him for that. We have some of the world's best doctors at the University of Michigan and we are confident he will only get better following this surgery and his summer of rehabilitation. I am not expecting Spike to dunk anytime soon, but we do expect a full recovery by the start of our September workouts. We just want Spike to be at his best for his senior year at Michigan."
"This is something I knew I would have to do and now is the right time," said Albrecht. "I am so appreciative of all the support I have received from the U-M medical doctors and staff, the U-M coaching staff, my teammates and especially all the Wolverine fans. I cannot wait to get back to the floor playing pain free."
"I am not expecting Spike to dunk anytime soon," is a gem of a press release quote. Here's hoping for a swift and full recovery; it's remarkable Albrecht was able to play as well as he did while dealing with that level of pain.
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]
Remember that one run that maize Michigan had against blue Michigan? It'll come to you: it was the one when the offense gained yards by running the ball. I mean forward yards, not the sideways stretch things. You know the one on the very first snap of the Spring Game that Ace giffed:
There wasn't much else from the Spring Game to pull out so I thought it would be fun to pick this one apart as a very vanilla example of Harbaugh's Power offense, and Durkin's gap-attacking with speed defense, and where various players are in it.
I also disagree with Brian on what caused this to happen. He gave RJS credit for fighting A.J. Williams to a draw and blamed Desmond Morgan for biting the running back's initial outside cut. Those things happened, but in the context of Durkin's defense I think Jenkins-Stone is mostly at fault for not being aggressive enough. In 4-3 world a tie is a loss.
What the offense was thinking. Here's the design:
This is Power O, the most base play of Harbaughffense, from a base formation for running it. The first play of the game, there was nothing tricky about it—the offense lined up where they snapped except (off camera) Chesson went in motion. You may remember this play from such offenses as Stanford under Harbaugh, and what Borges and Hoke wanted to run with two years of eligibility left on Denard Robinson. Well-defended it ends however far down the field the offense's bodies managed to move the defense's bodies. This wasn't well defended, as we shall see after…
The Tipping Point?
Is Desmond Fitzpatrick the next to drop? [Fuller]
Michigan added a trio of football commits and even a basketball commit over the last few days. If you missed them, here are links to their respective Hello posts:
- Four-star 2016 IN QB Brandon Peters
- Three-star 2016 MI FB/ILB David Reese
- Three-star 2016 AL RB Kingston Davis
- 2015 German F Moritz Wagner (hoops)
Jim Harbaugh got himself a backfield in one weekend, and it's a very Harbaugh backfield: Peters is a 6'4" quarterback with decent athleticism, Davis is a load of a running back at 6'1", 230 pounds, and Reese would bring a linebacker's build and mentality to the fullback position.
Where Reese ends up is still in question; he told GBW's Kyle Bogenschutz he'll start out on defense despite reports that indicated Michigan was recruiting him at fullback, and he'll get a head start on figuring out which position he'll play ($):
“Coach Harbaugh said I could play any position and wherever my heart is at I can play. I’ll be playing linebacker. If I don’t start at linebacker I’d be open to fullback.”
“I can see myself playing anywhere on the defense,” added Reese. “Inside, outside linebacker. Just to be around that energy and I’ll be an early graduate as well.”
Peters, meanwhile, told Sam Webb he knew "a couple weeks ago" that he wanted to go to Michigan, and he's not shying away from the crowded depth chart at quarterback ($):
“I know there are a bunch of quarterbacks there right now, but that doesn’t stop me. You’re just going to have to go there and you’re going to have to compete and earn a spot. That’s fine with me. I love to compete. Also at the same time, it is a special opportunity to play for Coach Harbaugh. I think things are going to really start going in the right direction and I really want to be a part of it. I loved it there. The atmosphere was awesome. The fans are awesome as well.”
Peters added that he's "definitely" going to recruit other prospects, starting with in-state receivers Donnie Corley and Desmond Fitzpatrick.
Speaking of Fitzpatrick, many expected he'd join the weekend commitment party after his friend and teammate, Reese, joined the class. Those expectations grew to near-certainty when Fitzpatrick teased a major 8:00 pm announcement on Twitter yesterday.
The announcement? His dad is in a sitcom that debuts this month.
That is top-notch trolling, young Mr. Fitzpatrick. He told 247's Steve Wiltfong that he feels "really comfortable" at Michigan, but wants to be 100% sure before making a switch, so there's still a very good chance the post I may have written yesterday ends up seeing the light of day.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.