"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Welcome to College Football Blood Bowl. Warhammer 40k is generally too dorky even for me, but if you're vaguely familiar with their science fiction orc-dwarf-elf-demon football spinoff "Blood Bowl"* something is probably nagging you about those CoFoPoff** logos. This is why:
Spikes coming out of a ball.
BONUS: is it bad that I wasn't sure which logo Seth was talking about when he said one of them looked like, er, the other end zone, if you know what I mean?
CONSPIRACY THEORY BONUS: all of their images are coming from ESPN's CDN.
*[Yeah, seriously. 40K is what happens when you put all science fiction and fantasy races/tropes into a blender. As I said: too dorky even for me.]
**[I can't call something "College Football Playoff" you guys.]
Surveyin'. Michael Rothstein annually polls the outgoing seniors about things both important and not so much*. Getting unvarnished opinions on breakout players and the like is always interesting. Your predicted breakout player is Gardner, with Gallon trailing some ways back. It sounds like they're doing everything possible to extend that insane 1300-yard pace($) Gallon was on with Gardner as his QB:
"I got two. Devin and Jeremy Gallon, by far. The way they came in during the offseason, they do things people probably wouldn't expect. The way Devin is throwing the ball now. I told Gallon, if you look at the stats, he [Gallon] had 100 [receiving yards] against Alabama, a hundred-something against South Carolina. Nobody in the Big Ten can stop you two next year."
"Jeremy Gallon and Devin Gardner. They are both hard workers. When we were sleeping during the summer on Saturdays, they were up, throwing the ball. They are a great combination together and both competitive and both smart players."
Meanwhile, Willie Henry is the surprise pick as your best redshirted freshmen, albeit more narrowly. Braden, Chesson, and Jeremy Clark follow. Henry also got a breakout player vote.
"This is going just off observation, but Willie Henry. He's a guy I went up against every day in practice, didn't get to play this year but a really, really talented kid. I'd venture to say as talented as some of the guys I played against this year. There is huge potential there and I feel he can have a great career at Michigan."
He's called "strong an ox" and "an animal." Motor is brought up as an issue. Henry certainly looked the part at the spring game, albeit mostly on the sidelines.
Part II is also interesting($). Anon on Funk:
"He's extremely thorough and he watches a play and throughout that play, he can see what all five offensive linemen did. It's crazy and I don't know how he can do it but just watching a play live, he understands and has the vision to see what happened the entire play. I don't know if he would be the best coach to manage all the bureaucratic stuff that comes with being a head coach, but he knows football as well as anybody."
*[The annual bitching about the liberals in Ann Arbor is hilarious. You can probably figure out which offensive linemen are the ones carrying that grudge.]
Bad pun. No, this isn't about Moe Ways, it's about Adreian Payne, who is still on the fence about his NBA decision two days before the deadline. I think he should go if only because I'm sick of always thinking I've misspelled his name and being correct about that 75% of the time. Also, without Payne MSU's frontcourt next year looks like this: Alex Guana, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello. His departure would be kind of a big deal.
The word from every source close to Payne is that it's "50-50" he returns to Michigan State.
MSU is amongst the favorites with him and in a second-tier pack without. I don't know, I look at a 6'10" guy who can jump as high as GRIII and has just found three point range and I'm taking him in the 20s. I mean, if Robinson was going to be #15 or whatever with an efficient 13% usage rate, Payne's at 20%, shoots 84/58/38 and boards extensively. Oh and he's four inches taller. GTFO! It's for your own good!
Mark Donnal talking. With UMHoops. Projected role:
What do the coaches have you working on this summer?
“I’ve been working on pick-and-pop. That’s one of the things they said me and Derrick would probably be doing — a lot of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop sets like that. I’ve just been working on my mid-range jumpshot, my post moves, my hook shots both right and left. Those are the main things I’ve been working on.”
Donnal has some nice post skills and can shoot out to three point range. Athleticism is the main concern with him. Most people, including me, have been projecting a redshirt just because Michigan is pretty stocked at the 4 and 5 this season. Donnal is the sort of guy who probably won't be high on NBA radars no matter how good he is in college, so the idea of a fifth year there is appealing. But as we saw this year, if you've got a guy who can give you minutes as you go deep into the tournament you've got to play him.
Hello/goodbye Rutledge? Mike Spath reported that Jared Rutledge would take a year in the USHL for extra seasoning; Rutledge told the Daily he was sticking around; Spath said that was not the case. Yost Built has more details on an odd situation.
One guy who's not coming in for sure: Bryson Cianfrone. Spath reports($) he'll reclassify to 2014. Smart move for a guy who has talent but struggled with the level of competition in the USHL this year. Michigan has plenty of depth at forward this year, too.
Making friends. Winning hearts and minds. I actually agree with Mark Emmert when he says opposition to the recruiting deregulation he slammed through is the following:
“[The] counting of phone calls and text messages and emails … is frankly crazy,” Emmert told a group of bowl executives. “Literally, you have to hire someone to count your cell phone calls and to look at your phone records.”
… At least 75 Division I members had to weigh in by March 20 to force an override vote of the legislation. Emmert blamed football coaches for the pushback saying, “it's insane.”
It's just that maybe a guy invariably described as "embattled" should maybe seem a little less unhinged, is all. More hinges. Less waving around.
Etc.: Zak smack attack get back you don't want that. Pitt football players busted with 20 bags of heroin! That'll wrap up the Fulmer Cup in April. Dave Brandon says the idea he would run for Senate is "silly." SILLY LIKE A FOX.
Spring Game gifs? Oh, sure, I guess. This is the last post I'll have here until the 29th, as the next couple days are devoted to HTTV stuff and then I'm taking a little time off to recharge.
I'm continuing to tweak how I do gifs on here to hopefully make them more accessible for everyone—most of them are now dumbed down to 48 colors, which has greatly decreased file sizes. If you had trouble with them before, perhaps you'll give these posts another shot. Anyway, Dennis Norfleet:
This one was specifically requested by Brian, or at least that's how I interpreted the tween-at-a-Bieber-concert scream emanating from the stands when it happened. (Full run gif'd here, but I really wanted to slow-mo that juke.)
[Hit THE JUMP for fun with the names of a certain Pickerington-based duo.]
“What are you shaking your head about? Don’t start this like that. I want positive karma out of you. Hi. How you guys doin’? Heiko, what’s happenin?”
MGo: Not much.
“Always good to see you.”
MGo: It’s good to see you, too.
“You didn’t mean that.”
MGo: I’m really sad that you didn’t run any pistol formations.
“We don’t have any pistol formations. How could we run it? But if you’d like us to put them in we’ll be happy to do so just to make you happy.”
MGo: That would be great.
“Because my life revolves around your happiness if you haven’t figured that out by now.”
The first play from scrimmage was a 30-yard pass down the sideline to Amara Darboh. Was that to show people that they don’t need to worry about the wide receivers?
“Heh. No. That wasn’t what I was thinking. No, we were just thinking -- it’s always a good idea every so often in coming out on offense to try and take a ball deep. Our defense isn’t necessarily like this, but a lot of defenses will get a little reckless, you know? They’ll try and create a safety or whatever. A deep ball sometimes is a pretty good deal so we just decided at least once we were going to try and do that. That’s the reason for it.”
Long. Splitting into halves.
It's a trend: Michigan spring games have returned to their sleepy past, meaning little and failing to reveal Savior Quarterback Who Will Save Us. This is a good thing, since the titanic importance of spring games under Rodriguez was symptomatic of a program drunkenly staggering from one rickety support to another.
It would be nice if Michigan could put together an actual game like you see at OSU, ND, and many SEC schools. Maybe next year.
Anyway, highlights to remind you of some of the things chattered about below:
The most important thing that happened yesterday was Hoke muttering something about Jake Ryan's return timeframe:
"I'm not a doctor, but possibly middle of October. Some people react differently."
That would be excellent. The critical bit of Michigan's schedule is… well, all of November, when they play State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and OSU, ie: the top half of their division, Iowa, and The Game. The only games before November that look competitive are against Notre Dame and Penn State, and Penn State should start dropping off what with their sanctions.
Ryan may even be back for that one, which is on the 12th. Indiana and a bye week follow, so Ryan may not just be back by the important bits of the schedule but established. As far as devastating season-ending ACL injuries to your best player on defense go, I like this one more than I expected I would.
Meanwhile, Blake Countess and Fitzgerald Toussaint both warmed up like nothing untoward had happened to them. (Neither was taking contact.) Countess's injury is far enough in the past that it's reasonable to expect that. Seeing Toussaint out there was a moment of shock for me. He didn't take any contact but if he's out there running five months before the season he will certainly be available in fall, which is when those soccer players who had the same injury came back anyway.
Devin Gardner Looked Good
this picture feels goooood (Eric Upchurch)
If Denard Robinson hadn't gotten hurt, this would have in fact been a Big Deal, as Gardner would be an heir apparent with no track record except his performance in the three previous spring games: awful, awful, and awful. With five starts dwarfing all spring data in importance, it's not a big deal. It is nice. Precisely nice.
In this one he did throw his traditional pick six to a linebacker he doesn't see coming underneath a receiver (Desmond Morgan dropped this one); aside from that he was 11 of 15 for about 140 yards, picking up where he left off in the fall. That's a very large jump from last year, when Gardner's performance had everyone buzzing about how Russell Bellomy looked like a plausible backup and let's just move Gardner to wide receiver already.
Here's the part you'll see about six more times before the opener about how if you extrapolate Gardner's statistics out to a full season you get some crazy numbers: 60% completion percentage, 9.7 YPA, 29:13 TD:INT, and nearly 3200 yards passing. That would be a Michigan record for TDs and brush up against John Navarre's 2003 season for yards. It would also vie for the best YPA season in the era when offenses throw the ball more than ten times a game—Jim Harbaugh hit 9.9 in 1986*.
Those numbers are a touch flattering since they include the bail-out against Northwestern and a couple of long touchdowns generated more by the defense screwing up than Gardner doing anything amazing—thinking primarily of Roundtree against OSU here. But then again we're talking about a guy who had been playing most receiver before being thrust into the starting job against Minnesota and a statline assembled against a set of defenses that were collectively pretty good. Pass efficiency Ds for the five Gardner opponents: 23rd (Minnesota), 33rd (Northwestern), 75th (Iowa), 29th (OSU), and 34th (South Carolina). At most one of those is a flailing patsy, and even the dismal Iowa defense was a far cry from MAC snacks not named Central Michigan.
Anyway: Gardner's calm demeanor and accuracy is another chunk of evidence to put on the pile. Maybe a small one, sure.
*[Rick Leach had a whopping 11 YPA in 1979, but only threw the ball 130 times. Yes, he only threw 130 times when he had Anthony Carter as an option. Football has changed.]
Running Backs: Wait Until Fall
With Fitzgerald Toussaint now certainly on the list of running backs not participating on Saturday who will be major threats for playing time, any conclusions drawn here are likely to be about the guy getting two carries a game behind Fitz and Derrick Green or DeVeon Smith. But it is spring, when we display our most colorful obsessions in an attempt to win mates. Let us proceed.
Going by the substitution patterns it seemed like Justice Hayes was tentatively your starter. He took advantage of this situation to average 0.5 YPC on two carries. Drake Johnson picked up less than a YPC himself, leaving Thomas Rawls and Dennis Norfleet to pick up the only real gains of the day by a tailback.
Both of those backs were going up against primarily backups. Usefulness: not assured. I mean, in one of the longish Rawls runs above he breaks a tackle from Terry Richardson, who's still about a buck fifty soaking wet. In the other a walk-on SAM gets crushed inside and the corner is open for days.
It will surprise no one that I thought Norfleet looked good. In the run featured at 2:10 in the highlight video he's behind mostly walk-ons and facing mostly starters. Black beats up Blake Bars and forces Norfleet away from blocking. Norfleet slips behind that block so fast that RJS has no shot at him, then he jukes Jeremy Clark out of his jock—and this is important for any coach but especially one Brady Hoke—to go north-south. On his other quality run (sadly not included in the highlights) he did the same thing: threaten outside so he could cut north-south and finish his run.
(@ right: Upchurch)
They did include the blown up zone stretch, and on that one you can see he just doesn't have a chance as Keith Heitzman rips through a block and forces Norfleet outside into Cam Gordon. He probably should have just eaten a two yard loss instead of testing Gordon.
Here's the thing though: Michigan didn't show a snap of pistol or much of anything, really. You know Al Borges loves his throwback screens, especially when he's got a guy as mobile as Gardner threatening the other side of the field. Who do you want grabbing those? Obviously Norfleet. Okay maybe Hayes, but we haven't really seen anything from him in that regard yet. Whoever gets that role has got to be plausible enough as an inside runner and blocker to not be a flashing throwback screen signal. I think we saw a couple things from Norfleet that bode well in that regard.
It's harder to get excited about Rawls given what we saw from him last season. Norfleet has the advantage of being a new toy, at least when it comes to getting carries in the backfield.
Receivers: Are They Supposed To Be A Problem?
Jeremy Gallon is going to catch a billion passes this fall, lots of them hitches, some of them hitch and go, some of them comeback screens. It's not so much the frequency with which Gardner targeted him on Saturday that makes me say this but the ease of the connection. When Gardner's throwing at Gallon it just seems easy.
Gallon reminds me of that moment after Braylon's departure when Michigan tried to establish Breaston as a deep threat. This was a rousing success until the moment Breaston had to bring in a ball over his head. IIRC he dropped it literally every time. But by God he was open.
Gallon is like that. His change of direction is elite, and Michigan is going to go hitch hitch hitch seeya this fall. By God, Gallon will be open. The difference: Gallon can actually catch downfield. His stature always makes him a tough target—see that corner route Gardner zinged well over his head—but we've seen him make a bunch of tough catches. Hell, he's even effective on fade routes in the endzone, a development that is still mindblowing even months afterwards.
Upshot: don't care if he's small, Gallon is a legit #1. Hell, he was fourth in the league in receiving yards last year despite operating in a Denard-centered offense for most of it. Let's have more Fun With Extrapolation: Gallon's hypothetical stats if Gardner was QB all year: 81 catches, 1330 yards.
Meanwhile, the guys surrounding Gallon will be fine. Drew Dileo didn't do much in the spring game but we've established who he is: a sure-handed slot guy who will find the foot of space he needs to convert on third and six. Devin Funchess should be a much bigger factor in year two. This is a proverbial weapon:
Darboh looked good finding a 30-yard fade on the first play from scrimmage; Jeremy Jackson made some plays. They'll have 4-5 solid options to go with a great #1. As points for concern go, this one doesn't register with me.
As for the second-year guys, Darboh seems a bit ahead of Chesson; both will play. You can see why Chesson redshirted last year when you get him next to Darboh, as Bryan Fuller did:
Still a bit of a Caris LeVert vibe from Chesson. They might have to protect him against jams by having him off the line, that sort of thing. Darboh looks like that won't be a problem.
I can't tell you I noticed a lot of details live, but one thing did jump out: Graham Glasgow seems to be making a serious push for playing time. He got plenty of snaps with the ones at both guard spots and center. He was the nominal starter at left guard over Ben Braden; at the very least it seems like he'll be the first interior lineman off the bench in the event a starter is hurt. He's their utility infielder.
The rest of the line seems set, with Kyle Kalis taking a large majority of the first team RG snaps and Jack Miller the same number at center. It is vaguely possible the arrival of Patrick Kugler or emergence of someone down the depth chart upsets the order of things, but I think that's your interior line: Glasgow OR Braden, Miller, Kalis. Joey Burzynski seems to have dropped back from the group with serious playing time prospects. Chris Bryant was well down the depth chart but did get on the field some. He could emerge if the injury is still holding him back.
Performance was a mixed bag. Michigan seems to want to pull Kalis to Lewan on a lot of plays. Good in theory; not entirely executed in practice. For example, at 1:10 in the highlights above you get a replay of last year's MLB misidentification: Michigan wants to run power behind Lewan with Kalis pulling; Michigan blitzes the A-gaps; Miller doesn't read this and sets up to block nobody; an unblocked Ross meets Johnson in the backfield, with Morgan unblocked right behind. Braden got smoked by Black for a sack a bit later.
Michigan yanked Lewan relatively early. Michigan put Erik Magnuson out there, and he did just okay. Pass rush was a lot easier to get with Lewan out of there (surprise!). Given the push Braden is making at guard I bet that any Lewan injury—knock on wood—sees Schofield flip to LT with Braden moving to RT and Glasgow drawing in at guard, if he's not already on the field. Michigan prefers a best-five-guys approach over any specific positional backup.
Defense in a bit.
- Blake Countess and Fitz Toussaint should be back for the season opener.
- Jake Ryan could be available as early as mid-October.
- Devin Funchess got dinged up during the game but should be fine.
My nice camera is broken, so here is a high-res iPhone shot. Note the bling.
“I think we got 65, 66 plays in, which is about where we wanted to be. We got some situational work that I wanted to get done. We need to really get a lot of the young guys up front on both sides of the ball. We want to continue to improve some of the fundamentals on both sides of the ball. Running the football is one of them, and playing the run and getting off blocks -- we have to do a little bit of that. We got to do a little bit of red zone. That’s one area that we need to continue to work on on both sides of the ball. The guys went out there, it’s the first day we’ve been outside, which is unusual. But we got done what we wanted to get done.”
That was the first time you practiced outside all spring?
Talk about Devin’s first long completion, and some of the passes he threw today in this weather?
“Well, Devin naturally throws a tight ball. When you throw a tight ball, and he’s got good arm strength -- he has good velocity on it. He can cut through the wind pretty well. He’s always thrown a long ball pretty well. He had a pretty good day.”
Talk about Jack Miller at center and Chris Wormley’s return?
“You know, I think Jack has really -- there’s great competition, him and Graham Glasgow at the center position. I think Jack has really grown as a player. Again, so much of this is about the fact that he’s made some real strides in his accountability and about being the bell cow when you look at the offensive line. Chris was a little tentative early in the spring, but I think he’s had a good spring. His recovery, confidence and those things [are good].”
“I think the young guys and Jeremy Jackson -- I think Jeremy’s really having his best spring. You look at Jehu [Chesson] and Amara [Darboh], I think both those guys have really come a long way. They both are very talented and do a lot of different things. Joe Reynolds. I think Joe keeps pushing everybody. Joe’s a guy that’s played a lot of positions, and that’s real positive.”
What about Graham Glasgow makes him able to rotate through all three positions?
“Smart, number one. Very intellient. He’s tough, which you need to be, physically and mentally. He has a real passion for the game.”
Talk about your pass rush -- looked like Taco got to the quarterback a couple times and actually hit him …
Was that something that you saw consistently throughout the spring?
“Well I think we’ve grown. I think we’ve got some young kids who have some ability. With Greg and his passion with how he teaches rushing the passer, the work that’s been put in … and the guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do. We’ve worked on it. We’re not near what we can be and will be, but I think we’re a little better at it.”
Thoughts on Blake Countess’s spring and the secondary in general?
“Well, Blake, he’s healthy. Kept him out of contact. Same with Fitz [Toussaint]. I think that’s just the best way to go about it. They both played a number of snaps. The secondary, the competition level at a core position -- you want it there. You can say the same thing about the safeties. Jeremy Clark is a guy who’s a pretty good player. Marvin [Robinson] has shown great glimpses through his career here. Thomas is having a real solid, real good spring. He’s been very much the leader. And then Jarrod played quite a bit a year ago, but he’s come along.”
What was your evaluation of the backup quarterbacks today?
“I think with Brian [Cleary] and [Alex] Swieca, it was good to give them snaps with people here. People in the stadium, playing in this stadium. Both of them handled themselves well. We put the ball on the ground on a snap, which we can’t afford to do. Whose fault was it, I’m not sure. But we need to do a better job with that. As far as the growth that they both have made, it’s been positive.”
James Ross was in the middle of a lot of plays today. Have you been seeing that from him all spring?
“Yeah James has had a pretty good spring. He’s a good football player. Very instinctive. He’s got a burst, movement to the football. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to take on blocks.”
Are Ross’s instincts unorthodox similar to Jake Ryan?
“No. No he’s not unorthodox. He’s going to be a little more of a technician, but it’s still football instincts.”
What are your thoughts on the transtion to pro-style offense?
“I think it’s gone very well. I think I’d be shocked if we didn’t show a whole lot of anything today as far as scheme and all those things. That’s what we’ve run before we came here. We still have elements -- you can still tell from the play-action game standpoint how comfortable Devin is and how good he can be.”
Offensive line was up and down today. How big of a focus is improving the interior line going to be moving forward?
“Look, we’re going to focus on all of it, what we do from here on as a team and what they do together, the seniors and all that. Objectively there were some good plays offensively and there were some good plays defensively.”
How likely is it that you bring in a JUCO transfer at quarterback?
“I -- I don’t know. It could happen. It couldn’t happen.”
Looked like something happened to Funchess …
“He’ll be all right.”
Any update on Hagerup’s status?
What would you need to see from a JUCO transfer in order to take him?
“He’d better be pretty good. That’d be the first and what would fit what we want to do with the scheme and what we want in a quarterback. ”
Talk about Fitz’s progress? Other running backs?
“Fitz, he’s made really good strides. He probably could have done a little more, but I think his progress is pretty good. I think Thomas [Rawls] made a nice run in there today, had a really nice cut. [Dennis] Norfleet made a guy miss in the hole. I think Drake [Johnson] ran hard, and Justice [Hayes] protected well a couple times there, but we’re a work in progress. Has there been any separation? I don’t think so yet. We’ll go through some of it in the fall.”
What kind of clarity did today provide as fars as your No. 2 quarterback?
“Well I think Brian is [No. 2].”
Is that your ’97 championship ring there?
Any significance to bringing that out today?
“Uh, I usually don’t wear it, so … just had it on.”
Just felt like putting it on today?
“Yeah. Went with my … shoes.”
Would you expect Fitz and Blake to be back for the opener?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt.”
What is the likely timetable for Jake Ryan?
“You know, I’m not a doctor. But. Possibly middle of October. Some people react differently.”
Impact of Taylor Lewan on offensive line?
“Taylor’s done a great job with those guys. That’s one reason why he wanted to come back. Physicalness that they need to play with, targeting, all those things that go with that. He’s taken that really personally. I think the group of them, and the competition will really -- it’s been great. They’ll be impactful.”
How much of a strength will the tight end position be, and what kind of role will Jake Butt have?
“Well I think Jake being here has made it a stronger position. He’s a guy who can catch the ball in space, run well, but he’s also a guy that blocks well at the line of scrimmage for a guy who’s been here since January. We’re excited about what he brings added to the guys we have here.”
Lloyd Carr approves of this quote in the Michigan locker room. Via Rittenberg
A long time ago there was a thing called foot-ball that was so important we'd spend a month or two talking about foot-ball team practice that happened months before the foot-ball team played a foot-ball game. This was called "spring" no matter what happened to be happening out your windows.
I have just been informed by other parts of my brain that the "spring game" will be held tomorrow, and will still be called that despite a forecast of 43 degrees and a 22 mile per hour wind. This will be the last opportunity to get data on foot-ball until fall, whereupon excitement will descend upon the land again.
Here's everything I threw in a post because I was too busy with the Final Four run to do them any justice, and just in time.
The Peel Down The Fingers Of Michigan To Create An Obscene Gesture Offense
It's a working title. Shut up.
Denard Robinson has graduated. This is a terrible event for a lot of people, but probably not Al Borges. Borges can now stop jamming his brain into a spread coach's and do what he wants to do without everyone getting mad at him (until it doesn't work once). Lewan:
"I feel like (offensive coordinator Al) Borges is much more comfortable running this kind of offense than he’s been running for the last however many years."
What this will look like is still unknown even after Devin Gardner's five-game run as the starter, because…
- Michigan had spent most of the last two years focusing on Denard's unique talents and deficiencies
- They still had those talents for three of those five games and ended up running an even weirder hybrid offense than the weird hybrid created by matching Denard and Borges
- The NFL just started running this stuff so now it's cool with NFL bros.
Earlier in spring, Borges referenced the innovative stuff they were doing at places like San Francisco and Seattle—yes in fact just like that annoying NFL fan you know who dismisses the read option as gimmickry.
“You have to look at some of the stuff that [the NFL is] doing. Particularly because it’s pro football and running quarterbacks by design has not been a really popular thing to do in pro football over the years."
The upshot of this is scattered bouts of read option, a lot of it on the playside (ie: inverted veer), and a pistol package that could be anything from a quickly-discarded experiment to essentially the base offense depending on how well it works. There will also be fullbacks. : /
Andy Staples visited Ann Arbor and came back with an excellent article on the transition process that started immediately after last year's Nebraska game. It is unfortunately light on details.
We do know that Al Borges knows chick dig the long ball, and that Gardner is quite adept at unleashing the dragon.
"I kind of know sometimes what they're doin' before they do it," Gardner said of the defense. "I don't think (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison's very happy about that."
Safety Thomas Gordon affirmed Gardner's take, saying the quarterback has had his way with Michigan's secondary at times -- a secondary that ranked fifth against the pass last year.
"Devin, he'll let that thing fly," Gordon said. "With him back there, he can throw it, he can roll out. He can do everything. You never know with Devin, so you always have to be on your P's and Q's.
"He can pick you apart. He's been testing us so far this spring, and (secondary coach Curt) Mallory has been on the DBs' heads."
It's going to be a Tyler Bray kind of thing out there.
Interior Line: Mustachioed. Nicknamed. Mean?
talking with Jack Miller
Michigan returns both tackles, who will be great. They replace the three other guys on the line. Since that portion of the line was so bad a year ago—try to gain a yard, anyone not named Denard Robinson, moohaha—no one's freaked out about this. But it would be nice if the new guys were better.
If facial hair is any help, by God they will be.
They're calling themselves "The Muzzy Maulers". And they're building chemistry one mustache at a time.
"What are we calling this?," Miller shouted to fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, who like an older brother was watching his young center take on his first media pack of the spring. "The 'Muzzy Maulers'. That's kind of the new nickname. There's a mustache thing going on and Taylor's already taking advantage of it. I haven't yet because I have a boy mustache."
Jack Miller is picking up both the hirsuteness baton and the quote machine baton, which bodes well. In that article he notes that a bunch of the offensive linemen have gone so far as to live together in an effort to operate as one mind, describes Kyle Kalis as "a man" for his mustache-growing ability, and contains multitudes in an answer to the question "what did you learn from David Molk?"
"What did I learn from David Molk?," Miller laughs at the question.
Let me fix that for you, Mr. Miller.
What did I learn from David Molk that I can repeat to a reporter without causing Brady Hoke to explode?
And then there's… oh hell just read the whole article, I can't blockquote everything interesting that Miller says. The upshot is that Miller is larger and 70% as mean as David Molk on a scale ranging from Molk to Mealer. It sounds like he has a strong grip on the job, which is what I was hoping for with just walk-ons and incoming freshman Patrick Kugler backing him up:
Talked with offensive line coach Darrell Funk this morning about his group, which has to replace three starters in the middle. He mentioned that Jack Miller has been the most consistent interior lineman so far this spring, but he's being pushed by Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow. He said redshirt freshmen Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden have come a long way. And it sounds like it's a little easier to have youth inside than at tackle.
The buzz has been within in the sunnily positive range:
"This is by far the best spring start (they've had) since I've been here," fourth-year quarterback Devin Gardner said.
As of two weeks ago, Joey Burzynski was still running with the ones—that'll be something to watch for at the Spring Game. No offense to Burzynski, but I think everyone's hoping Kyle Kalis locks onto the right guard job with the jaws of death.
Meanwhile, the other guard spot is Ben Braden's to lose.
It’s hard to get a read on the young interior linemen right now, but one name that’s constantly floated by coaches and players is Ben Braden.
"He's going to be a hell of a guy to get around when he's coming downhill at you," Lewan said.
Lewan said he's excited about Michigan's offensive line looking more like the lines of old.
"The tradition of mauling people up and down the field is really cool, and it's fun to see people give up on the other side of the ball, not us," Lewan said. "Everybody's got a nasty streak. These guys really get it."
While I don't think anyone's making an explicit comparison to last year's collection of nice guys who had trouble consistently identifying the middle linebacker, my mind immediately goes there. "It's fun to see people give up on the other side of the ball, not us" is kind of a brutal shot at last year's interior line, right? Am I crazy?
In any case, the meanness here and the options at the guard spots should provide Michigan more consistent production, and by that I mean "any production."
Catchists Of Size
Michigan's got a couple of good receivers in Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon; they'll need a couple more to fill out Gardner's targeting array. With a zero-receiver class in Hoke's first year and a collection of sleepers in year three, the onus falls heavily on second-year guys Amarah Darboh (a sophomore) and Jehu Chesson (a redshirt freshman). Both have come in for considerable buzz. Darboh is in the Avant mold; Chesson in the Edwards mold.
"Jehu, in one-on-ones, he’s just flying by people with his speed. Doing all these amazing things. You can tell he’s learning." -- Receiver Jeremy Gallon
Chesson also made a ridiculous diving catch in the scrimmage video (at about 2 minutes):
Chesson looks like the football team's Caris LeVert—earlier in that video he gets a ball he should catch raked out by a defensive back. He's probably not going to be too good at getting off jams or dealing with bump and run yet, but that's what stacked formations are for.
Meanwhile, the siziest catchist, Devin Funchess, is calling himself a "pretty boy." In a negative way, not like he's a parrot:
"I was like a pretty boy that didn't want to get hit," he humbly admitted on Thursday. "Now I know that I have to change many aspects of my game, change my mindset. Now I just go in there and stick my head in as much as possible.
"I believe I wasn't ready for the Big Ten because it was a tougher game."
While everyone else was staring at the box score, circling his lack of receptions and wondering why he wasn't being targeted more, Funchess and the coaching staff were more concerned about his blocking.
"I have to help the team win," Funchess said of his offseason reprograming. "I learned that because at the end of last year I missed some blocks, some key blocks. And it hurt the team."
That is accurate. I am a bit concerned that he hasn't added any weight—seems like Michigan would like him at 250 if he is going to be a Y TE. It doesn't matter how good of a blocker you are at 230 pounds, you are just an oversized wide receiver.
"I hang out with all of them, but I can't hang out with the lineman too much because I can't grow facial hair," Funchess said. "I'm just a young lad; can't really grow it."
Unleash The… Dangit James Ross You Don't Fit With "Unleash The"
This site has been hyping up James Ross since midway through last year when every time I'd look at tape, Ross would be getting to the right spot at the right time. Sometimes he had issues despite that, as in the Iowa game when Mark Weisman ran over a perfectly-positioned Ross repeatedly.
a history of nonviolence
If Ross can just go from the above to wrecking people, he'll be all-conference. At least. What's that, Devin Gardner? You've decided to put some practice clips of Ross wrecking people on the internet?
I'll be peering at him for hints of the above tomorrow—and this site's breakout player prediction is no secret. Michigan is moving Desmond Morgan to MLB for a reason. Ross has to start.
Freak Clark To The Rescue
Lo and it came to pass that there was a man who had not really done much so far in his career who entered spring practice a different man and was called exciting things.
Both [starting tackles], asked open-endedly which defensive lineman provides the most difficult matchup in practice, offered the same answer: Frank Clark.
"He’s just so quick. He’s got such a quick step, it's hard to handle him. He's a freak," said Schofield, who wasn't the only Michigan player to invoke the F-word.
Added senior defensive lineman Jibreel Black: "Ever since Frank came in here, he's been a freak athlete. It's just a matter of putting it all together."
And this always worked out and never did not work out. Amen.
Jake Ryan's ACL tear makes finding some more pass rush—already priority one for a defense that was pretty good in all other aspects—absolutely critical. Fortunately, hulked-up WDE Frank Clark is far and away your Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award winner. Por ejemplo:
What they're saying: "I feel like he’s more focused, just to become our No. 1 pass rusher. I feel like he’s definitely proven he can do that. I think he’s realizing he’s older now, and wants to step up, especially now with Brennen moving. He’s among the quickest defensive linemen I’ve ever faced, and he’s got a nice little bull-rush too. He can mix it up on you." -- Right tackle Michael Schofield
I've heard that Lewan and Clark have a nice little practice rivalry going. To have one of those means you're evenly matched, or at least close. Lewan is hyping and hyping:
"I think, no doubt in my mind, he's an All-Big Ten player -- if not more," Lewan said Tuesday of the weak-side defensive end. …
Clark claims he's gotten the best of Lewan in practice.
"Perception is reality," Lewan countered. "If he wants to perceive it that way, then yeah."
He's seen his share of pass rushers, from Tom Gholston to Jadeveon Clowney. Michigan would like Clark to end up closer to the Clowney end of things, though obviously not particularly close because holy pants that guy.
Grady Brooks didn't do anything at all after his spring hype; guys like Breaston did. Let's go Breaston.
In other pass-rush hope, early-enrollee Taco Charlton came in at 6'6", 265 and is getting buzz of his own. Gardner:
He's huge to begin with. He comes in big enough to play. He's fitting in. He doesn't look like a freshman. He knows what he's doing out there.
Mario Ojemudia is in there too, though he's by far the smallest of the available WDEs and may be restricted to nickel rush duties.
Wherefore Art Binkie
Jordan Kovacs is gone. While Marvin Robinson still seems to be taking most of the first-team snaps, if you made me guess I'd say Jarrod Wilson would push past him to start. Wilson enrolled early and was the third safety a year ago. He knows what was the most important part of the tao of Kovacs:
Even with all the extra work he puts in, Wilson might consider himself first and foremost a student of Kovacs.
The former captain has been in and out of Ann Arbor this winter, dropping by Schembechler Hall periodically for workouts, and though Wilson really hasn’t had the opportunity to pick Kovacs’s brain, the year he spent observing Kovacs while on reserve has given him insight into the kind of safety he’s striving to be.
“His instincts and what to expect even before the play has even started,” Wilson said of what he’s picked up by watching Kovacs. “He could come out and tell you what the offense was going to run due to line splits, wide-receiver splits, quarterback and everything. I pretty much learned pre-snap reads from him.”
That reminds me to put Kovacs on my future Michigan coach wish-list. Oh hell yes.
This article was based off a dumping-ground where I put ever article that flipped past me during Michigan's tourney run, and as I finish it I notice that certain things are absent. Quick take time.
Running back. A murky mess with no clear leader. Drake Johnson has come in for some coach hype; I've heard Justice Hayes is looking good; everyone's waiting for Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith to rumble into camp in fall. Biggest thing might be seeing whether Hayes or Norfleet can lock down the third down back role.
Tight ends. Can AJ Williams block now? Is he a downfield threat after the weight loss? I don't know.
Defensive line. Are they really going to roll with 276-pound Jibreel Black as the starting three-tech? How's Pipkins doing? Who will start at SDE?
Linebacker. Cam Gordon, please be good.
Cornerback. Countess is still limited so some uncertainty is still there even though the top three spots appear to be taken by quality players.