"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."
By the end of this article you should be able to make an educated guess
as to what Braden is saying to A.J. Williams [Fuller]
You may have heard Michigan has a new offensive identity, by which of course we mean Michigan now has an offensive identity. We think. We're told. Evidence for this is Michigan hired a new OC who runs inside zone, and he has even Brady Hoke talking about it being our base thing. This thing is totally happening. I mean if they hadn't sworn up and down for three years that Power was going to be their thi...
Let's just not go into that and focus on inside zone and how to watch inside zone, and how to be correctly disappointed with the correct person when inside zone isn't run very well. Since this is a new thing, and the offensive line are all relatively new things themselves, and the recent history of Michigan football has given you no reason to believe otherwise, and there are some really good defensive linemen Michigan has to go against this year, let's concede right now that Michigan isn't going to be running inside zone very well this season, especially early. Let's pretend like the coaches are going to stick it out anyway and let it play out.
IZ Resources: As well as the above-linked articles, I drew from Chris Brown at Smart Football, and this article that quotes Chris Brown on a Philly Eagles website. And Space Coyote wrote an entire article on IZ and some plays that stem from it in this year's HTTV; I'm sure he'll pipe in as soon as I mess something up here.
|Every blocker is responsible for whatever defender appears in the "zone" he's responsible for blocking.|
A Temperate Zone
What's inside zone? Maybe it's best to start with what it's not: man. In MANBALL, most linemen have an assigned guy to block; a lead blocker (sometimes a puller) is the only dude who has to make a tough, mid-play decision, and the running back just has to follow that guy.
Inside zone is a base running play where all the blockers are reacting to the defense, not just a lead guy, and the running back has to choose from among various holes that could open up. It takes a different set of skills, mastery of a different set of blocks, and most of all: reps reps and more reps so that everybody can make split-second decisions and those decisions will be correct.
That's not to say all decisions are made after the snap. In fact most blocking assignments are determined by how the defense is lined up. In many cases it won't be all that discernible from man-blocking.
yellow is uncovered. click bigginates.
The read OL have to make is whether they're "covered" or not. Covered means there's a DL lined up across from you. If there isn't, you are "uncovered" and most likely you'll get to go hunting linebackers. But first you look next to you and see if there's a defender shaded to the playside of your buddy; he may need help with that lineman before you release downfield. If that defender is a beast your buddy may need all the help he can get. You deal with the first level defenders before you worry about stopping linebackers.
Almost always, more than one defender will arrive in a blocker's zone. So zone blocking means lots of shared blocking. Ultimately the blocking ends up being 2-on-2 instead of 1-on-1. For example in captioned illustration above-right, the center and right guard are together responsible for blocking the nose tackle and the middle linebacker.
Offensive linemen in high school seldom get the right footwork down. Zone-blocking footwork isn't the same as pile-driving some dude, for one; and two it's not something many high school coaches know how to teach; and three if you're a 6'6"/300 future Big Ten OL and your job is to block a 6'0"/180 future Big Ten economics major, your greatest motivation to pay attention to your feet is probably the preservation of your prom date's.
In this moment it matters greatly. You need to get off the snap, get playside of your defender, get downfield, and get your feet set beneath you, your hands inside, and your pads beneath his so you can ride him out of the play, stonewall him, or shove him downfield; you let him dictate his fate.
On inside zone, an uncovered guy's first step is always to the play-side, not directly toward the guy you're going to block (the OL taking this step is a good indicator it's a zone-blocked rather than man-blocked play). This is because the DL don't always come straight upfield; you don't want them running by you.
Your job is to block the guy trying to cross you. If someone lined up inside you and ran further inside you, he's not yours. Your head stays downfield until you lock on a target, and any object that attempts to cross your field of vision must be stopped.
That Rabbit's Dynamite
Interesting example of a 1) a cutback and 2) the U starting on the strongside of the formation then executing his backside block almost like a lead blocker
Mastering the combo blocks and footwork to respond to all the things defenses throw at you takes a bazillion reps. The upside: inside zone, like option offenses, is a multi-attack threat that can go where the defense doesn't. A called IZ play could end up going outside, or inside, or cut to the backside depending on how your opponent defends it. A well-run IZ offense doesn't let defensive fronts play aggressively; if they want to stop you they'll have to activate the safeties in the run game, opening up the pass. It's not wimpy; it's smashmouth football that—as you'll see—relies mostly on crushing blocks to break things big.
[After the jump I'll show some sample executions versus various defensive alignments so you can get a sense of how it attacks and what factors lead to its success.]
As it turns out, taking this kind of beating has a long-lasting effect. [Fuller]
We all know that a well-timed hit on a passing quarterback, whether or not it results in a sack, makes it far less likely that pass will be completed, not to mention more likely to fall into the hands of a defender. It stands to reason, as well, that the cumulative effect of multiple hits on a quarterback will eventually affect his performance even when he's not taking hits.
Devin Gardner's 2013 season stands as a testament to this hypothesis. After the MSU seven-sack breaking point, there were several occasions when it seemed like he simply didn't have the juice to make certain throws that he didn't have any trouble making before his body was demolished piece by piece.
A recent article from the excellent site Pro Football Focus helpfully quantifies the effect of such punishment on a quarterback's accuracy and interception rate, using a data sample of every NFL throw from the past six years. As a quarterback takes more hits over the course of a game, their accuracy predictably plummets—on every throw, not just the ones when they're eating a defender:
After every sack or hit the quarterback takes, their Accuracy Percentage decreases by an average of a half of a percent. While that might not seem like much, there also isn’t much difference between the best and worst quarterbacks in the league. Based on the graph, an above average quarterback after five hits or sacks performs as well as an average quarterback with no hits or sacks. Once that above average quarterback has been sacked or hit 10 times, they play as well as a below average quarterback who hasn’t been sacked or hit.
The article also shows that interception rates increase substantially as the hits pile up, and more experienced quarterbacks are much better at mitigating these effects than rookie signal-callers—something to keep in mind when considering the relative merits of Gardner and Shane Morris.
When looking at Michigan's 2013 season, there's no question Gardner was a victim of this phenomenon. There's also evidence that he's better than most at handling the heat:
|2 sacks or fewer||152||94||61.8||10.1||7.9||3.9|
The heroic Ohio State (3 sacks) performance skews the numbers, though in fairness, so did Indiana's defense on the other. Even so, Gardner performed markedly better when not under constant pressure, especially when it came to producing yards and points.
The oddball interception rates can be chalked up to the concerted effort by Gardner to make fewer risky plays as the season went along. The desperation throwaways that resulted in stuff like the Stephon Tuitt pick-six turned into sacks intelligently taken as the season wore on, to the benefit of the turnover margin and serious detriment to Gardner's health and ability to make big plays on the ground or through the air.
So here's the hopeful part. Imagine a world in which Michigan has a running game that can move the ball forwards, forcing defenses to respect the run instead of pinning their ears back and going full-bore for Gardner's chest. Imagine a coherent Michigan offense that finds a way to counter the constant opponent blitzes. Imagine a full season of an offense directed by an NFL-level talent who doesn't end half his games resembling a coal miner.
This could very well be Michigan's reality in 2014. If it is, expect Devin Gardner to do big things.
Gardner's implied question is the same we're all asking [Fuller]
The 2014 football season hinges on whether the offensive line can go from one of the worst in the country to just mediocre. We've mentioned the downsides: it has to replace two NFL tackles. The upside is an offensive coordinator who plans to simplify the things they'll have to do, a ton of talent, and rather good excuses for why the bulk of guys weren't so good (youth compounded by panicky/insane coaching decisions). The competence of coaches replaced, arriving, or remaining can't be determined until they play, so guesses at their 2014 performance have to be extrapolated from what we know of the current players and the typical progression of men like them.
When Michigan was still putting together those 2012 and 2013 classes I looked over the history of our offensive linemen going back to the mid-'90s, because my memory before that is weak.
|Year in program|
|Not on team||1||6||13||17||29|
|% Solid +||1%||11%||21%||29%||37%|
The results were the growth chart below. I've reproduced it with updated data from 2013:
Really it's more specific than the above. If you're the backup to Steve Hutchinson in 2000 you could be pretty solid or terrible, but if you were an interior lineman on the 2013 team and hale and still couldn't crack the depth chart, you were obviously not good at that point. One thing working in our favor is Michigan has historically brought in offensive line classes rated about as highly as the recent crops. If you tried this with MSU over the same period there would be stretches of 2-stars (and, um, personal issues) to throw off the numbers.
A more precise way to show where our OL are at this point is to find closer comparisons to historic players at this point in their careers. I couldn't figure out a good way to show "tracks" before, but I think I've learned enough about table html now to make a crude flow chart. Sample sizes are way too small to say "Kalis will be X good by Y season," but if you can read it to say "At that age, Steve Schilling and Patrick Omameh were both about where Kalis is now." Usefulness is better at capping expectations: you can always say so-and-so was a backup at this point, but Miller's not going to be Molk.
|Not on team (x)||TransferRS||Backup||Solid||Star||Jonathan Goodwin|
|Solid||Star||Star||Jansen, Hutchinson, Backus, Long, Lewan|
|Star||Star||David Brandt, David Baas|
|Solid||Star||Tony Pape, Adam Kraus, Schofield|
|Liability||Solid||Frazier, Petruziello, Bihl, Ortmann|
|Liability||David Moosman, Perry Dorrestein|
|Backup||Ben Mast, Courtney Morgan|
|Backup||Solid||Kurt Anderson, Leo Henige|
|Backup||N. Parker, Denay, Kolodziej, McAvoy|
|Unrenewed||Partchenko, Potts, Christopfel, Gaston, DeBenedictis, Ciulla, Gallimore, Khoury|
|Injuries||Zirbel, Mossa, Sharrow, Brooks, Schifano, C. Bryant, Tannous, A.Brown, Simelis, Berishaj, C.Pace|
|Transfers||Ries, Moltane, Zuttah, Wermers, O'Neill, Posada|
[Discussion after the jump]
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.
wait spring football is what again
It's this practice thing that we used to think was super super important because the basketball team was a wet cat and the spring game was in late April. Now we haven't even thought about it because the basketball team is IMPORTANT and also still playing and they've moved the spring game up despite having horrible weather for seemingly the last decade solid.
So… yeah. It is a glimpse into what the football team might be like next year.
So last year's was a constant parade of quotes about how everyone was getting tackled for loss?
Well… no. It is a Pravda-like glimpse weighted by both the program's desire to look good in the absence of actual games and your hope that the next football season will be a fulfilling exercise in fandom.
Consider that hope to be disposed of in a dumpster behind a Five Guys.
All right, then. Let's enter the realm of football with a properly jaundiced eye.
Things To Watch
Will they be a single thing? "Aggression" is the guaranteed defensive watchword every time a coordinator change is made, and "simple" is the equivalent on the offensive side of the ball.
Kyle Kalis says Doug Nussmeier is gradually installing the offense. Much simpler. 'Last year, you never knew what was going to be called.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 25, 2014
How much of this is standard boilerplate and how much of it is a real problem that Nussmeier is going to solve is pretty much the question for the season. (No, it is not "who is going to start at quarterback?" You are a silly person, person who thinks that.) Lord knows that this site spent most of last year—most of the last three years—blasting Al Borges for not having anything resembling a base offense in his time. Last year's wander from stretch to power to tackle over to inside zone and all things in between was particularly egregious.
It was hardly unprecedented. Michigan never figured out how to run play action off their best play, the inverted veer, never figured out that having mobile quarterbacks run the waggle is just asking them to eat defensive end as soon as they turn around, never figured out what, in fact, they were. Having an identifiable identity is step one towards having one of those offense things.
Let's try to keep me alive this play, gents [Bryan Fuller]
Is the offensive line… tolerable? Extant? Sieve sieve sieve sieve sieve? I can't say the good feelings are pouring out of spring. This is not a world in which claims that true freshman Mason Cole has a great chance to play the most important position on the line…
Another early enrollee opening eyes at Michigan is OL Mason Cole. Competing for starting LT job. Funk says Cole has great chance to play.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
…can be dismissed as so much spring hogwash. I mean, yeah, it's almost certainly spring hogwash. But given the situation that buzz comes off as a negative thing about people not named Mason Cole as much as it is a positive one about Cole.
Meanwhile Graham Glasgow, the one returning guy who had a job for the entirety of last season, got held out for a while due to an issue that will also see him suspended for The Horror II, and oh good now I'm thinking about what might happen in The Horror II without Michigan's best interior lineman.
Thinking: try not to do it.
Anyway, injuries have held near-sure-LT Erik Magnuson out and forced Michigan to try a parade of guys probably better suited to play guard at that spot. Reading the tea leaves, the most likely starting line for the spring game reads:
- LT David Dawson
- LG Kyle Bosch
- C [Glasgow placeholder]
- RG Kyle Kalis
- RT Ben Braden
And in a perfect world that would remain the line through fall camp except for the insertion of Magnuson. When pinged for offensive line data, Hoke was his usual recalcitrant self but did not seem super enthused all the same:
"The physicalness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who has been a great finisher.
"Probably Graham (Glasgow), as much as anybody, in some ways. Ben (Braden) is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be."
Not that they could be near where they need to be a few months after whatever that was.
Here's to this being the "before" picture. [Fuller]
Are Are De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green any diff—. Previous sentence was tackled for loss. Green's been tweeting out pictures of his weight as he strives to get back down to the bowling ball that was the #1 overall tailback in the country to a couple of different services instead of the bowling ball he was last year. Here is a swathe of boilerplate.
"De'Veon's had a very good spring, Derrick's had a better spring than he did in the fall," Hoke said last week. "Justice Hayes has done some really good things, and I'm really proud of him. Both carrying the ball and in the protection game. It'd be nice to get Drake (Johnson) back and put him in the mix."
Chances are it will be hard to tell much what with the offensive line coming together and folks looking confused, but give me one cut from Green that he probably couldn't have managed last year and I'll be happy.
Is Ross Douglas viable at tailback? I kind of think no if only because the Hoke era has expressed a preference for large men running the ball even if they bring little else to the table other than size. Meanwhile, Douglas's bounce to offense comes in the context of Taylor/Countess/Peppers/Lewis/Stribling, a veritable bounty at corner that Douglas didn't figure to crack any time soon. He's also down the depth chart on offense:
"Justice, De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.
"We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB."
This kind of positional uncertainty is never a good sign for a prospect's future. If Douglas was in the mix at corner he'd be at corner. Instead he's fourth at best at tailback and probably fifth when Drake Johnson gets back.
But there is a new offensive coordinator who may do things like see what happens if you give Dennis Norfleet the ball, so you never know.
But that probably means the secondary is loaded, right? At first blush Michigan has more corner depth than I can remember. They return both starters from last year plus a couple of promising freshman who did the really hard part—sticking with your man—last year before wilting at the last minute. And then there's that Jabrill Peppers dude. Douglas's positional vagabondery would not be taking place if Michigan didn't go five deep in solid options at corner.
Wide receiver war. With Devin Funchess entrenched at wide receiver, playing time there is now at a premium. The departure of Jeremy Gallon opens up scads of catches, some of which will go to Funchess and Jehu Chesson. The rest will get spread out. While a number of those will go to Amara Darboh, who was building up steam with his play in practice last year before a season-ending foot injury, Michigan is still being cautious with him. You won't see him on Saturday:
“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” Darboh said Thursday. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”
One gentleman you will see, and possibly see a lot of, is Freddy Canteen. The freshman early enrollee has been this spring's easy winner of the Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award. Almost literally everyone who has gotten practice buzz or been there themselves has come away talking about his quickness and advanced technique. One example of many:
WR Freddy Canteen creating a buzz this spring at Michigan. Players, coaches very impressed with early enrollee. Getting run with the ones.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
"Running with the ones" is a slightly overrated concept since in the course of a spring or fall practice just about everyone will get their shot on the top team to keep folks motivated and just to see what happens. Even so the Canteen drumbeat has been so consistent that he will be the guy everyone is watching for.
One guy you shouldn't expect anything from: Drake Harris. Harris has been shut down for the rest of spring with a hamstring issue. He had a similar problem for his senior year of high school and at this point it seems like he might be headed for a redshirt with Funchess/Darboh/Chesson/Canteen and last year's three-man class potentially ahead of him on the depth chart.
I'm looking at the man in the mirror. Middle. Whatever. [Fuller]
And then the weird thing. Jake Ryan, middle linebacker. I'm skeptical Ryan will be able to transition to a very different spot that asks him to read and react and then shed responsibly. If he does manage it, it seems like a part of his barbarian nature will be lost. Ryan is a shocking vertical attacker; middle linebackers are not generally tasked with that. When Ryan has been drafted into read and react situations by defensive alignment, it has gone poorly.
But they're going to try it, and spring will be an opportunity to see what's going on with that.
Safeties: we have them? Michigan was clearly dissatisfied with Thomas Gordon midway through last year, which just goes to show that Brady Hoke was in Muncie or San Diego for the decade of Michigan safety play between Marcus Ray and Jordan Kovacs. Great he may not have been; he was pretty much good enough, and when other guys got in the game the step down from pretty much good enough to not was obvious.
Now Gordon is gone and the list of potential replacements is short (inexplicably so given Michigan's apparent need): sophomores Jeremy Clark, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas. Michigan barely has enough dudes to put together a two deep, and there are few candidates to move from corner. Stribling's 176-pound frame would get him run over; ditto Lewis; they're not moving Countess; Taylor's run support is not a strength. That leaves Peppers (moving him away from boundary corner would be a travesty of justice) and redshirt freshman Reon Dawson, who's super super fast but raw and skinny.
So finding someone to play opposite Jarrod Wilson is an important target to hit with few bullets. Here's hoping Clark wins the job with ease; he's got the most experience.
Can a tight end hit something? One of the underrated problems with Michigan's offense a year ago was the tight end spot's total lack of progress. Devin Funchess proved that as a tight end, he was a good wide receiver; more worryingly, AJ Williams was hardly better despite not being, you know, a game changing receiver. Jake Butt was probably the best blocker Michigan had available, and he promptly tore his ACL. Jordan Paskorz left the program.
So. Michigan will hope Williams makes a step forward and turn to two guys coming off redshirt: Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman. They've also converted former SDE Keith Heitzman to that side of the ball. The freshmen are more H-back types than inline ones; Michigan may end up playing them both places just because they have to. Shallman's flirtation with tailback seems over:
Shallman has taken a few reps at running back this spring, but Hoke said he envisions him as a tight end-fullback hybrid.
Given the depth chart that makes sense. I'll be looking for anything resembling a block out of this crew.
Weather. Let's hope it's nice.