national champs baby
2012 spring game
There will be no Lincoln-Douglass debates about who the starter should be but MGoVideo has helpfully boiled down each quarterback's performance into individual video clips.
Lost in the fretting about Gardner's passing is that he looked very dangerous as a runner. That pop outside on the inverted veer he kept on was worthy of Denard. Kid is a big-time athlete.
Eric Upchurch. Upchurch's spring gallery.
The Spring Game came and went and I don't think it was just me: this one seemed flat in comparison to previous editions. The last time Michigan had a spring game so devoid of intrigue it was 2007, when senior versions of Hart and Henne ruled on offense and Lloyd Carr was the coach. Carr often seemed like he'd prefer it if his team played in front of no one, and this tendency was most frequently expressed at spring games. 2007 was boring and that was the way of things: boring.
- 2008: closed to the public thanks to Michigan Stadium construction, we still get our first glimpses at the spread offense… and our doom. The sense of the willies you got reading descriptions of what went on (you dismissed it as meaningless spring game stuff because you didn't want to ruin your summer as well as your fall) was the first indicator of what we were in for. The turnover party did not stop until the season did.
- 2009: Tate Forcier's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for the first time as an early enrollee, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Ace puts together Weapon of Choice video that is then recut into Weapon of Choice w/ Christopher Walken video. Youtube now thinks this video is set to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," which is Skynet-level commentary on how that Forcier thing worked out.
- 2010: Denard Robinson's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for not quite the first time but definitely the first one in which he looks like a plausible quarterback, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Afterwards mgovideo published cutups of all three QBs' snaps so people could engage in Lincoln-Douglass debates about who should be the starter.
- 2011: Will Al Borges stuff Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense designed for the exact opposite sort of quarterback? Answer: argh, yes. Spring game spawns offseason-long running debate about whether it's pure folly to move away from all shotgun, all the time. Borges participates in internal conflict version of that debate and generally sides with the shotgun crew, except against Iowa, for which we all pay dearly.
The past four years the spring game has been an important data dump that has indicated quite a lot of things about Michigan's season to come. Doom in 2008. Better quarterbacking the next couple years but with a fatal flaw: Forcier and Robinson's blowout performances came against Michigan's defense, which merely blew. Last year displayed to all how bad an idea it was to go under center a majority of the time.
This year Michigan spent about the same number of snaps as last year in the spread, ran Denard out there for one series, gave the established top tailback a few carries, and the whole thing was… just there, flopping around being dull and stuff.
Maybe this opinion is influenced by the fact that I wasn't there, but I don't think so. The things we think we found out are generally less exciting than "introducing DENARD ROBINSON!" and less important than the possibility we might totally screw him up. This is a sign of health in a program. It just makes this post a little less throbbingly important than it has been recently.
Anyway, there were some things we did learn…
DonkeyPuncher231 (please change that username someday, dear DP) has spliced together just about the whole thing:
The official site put out a highlight video about half that length:
An unofficial box score from AnnArbor.com. Notables:
- Gardner two of seven with an INT and 36 yards passing.
- Bellomy six of nine but the same yardage as Gardner.
- Gardner 9 rushes for 41 yards.
- Toussaint five for 39.
- Rawls 9 for 39.
- Hayes and Smith had one yard between them on 11 carries.
- "Unknown" caught two balls for 20 yards. Tacopants?
That data in hand, let's talk turkey.
Backup Quarterback Derby? I've Never Heard Of Such A Thing
Michigan's coaches took the Colonel Tressel approach to the obvious #1 storyline of the day, Russell Bellomy looking a lot better than Devin Gardner. Bellomy praise was ladled out but when a reporter asked point-blank who the #2 guy was, Hoke's response:
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
I see nossing. I do not comment on Devin Gardner throwing multiple five-yard dumpoffs in a manner that John Shurna thinks is unusual and Northwestern's perpetual 6'9" euro center who takes threes despite never making any of them thinks is inaccurate. Neither do I comment on Gardner throwing an interception that, while a pretty good play by one Blake Countess, was also very late.
Borges's Bellomy praise was specifically parceled out after a section of Gardner hype:
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and [when] guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy.
If Gardner's been really good and Bellomy uninspiring but solid and mistake-light throughout the spring, only one of these traits came through on Saturday.
Twitter took the evidence on hand, considered it carefully, and wrote out a PhD thesis about how Gardner was terrible forever and Bellomy should be the backup quarterback as Gardner became LarryJustin FitzeraldBlackmon. And, yea, because twitter always has the most considered opinions these were not immediately regretted in the morning and… actually, hold that twitter sarcasm for one twitter moment.
Do we of the twitter hivemind regret that? Let's consider the evidence. Last year Gardner got into various games and threw 23 passes. He was 11 of 23 for 176 yards (7.6 YPA), one touchdown, and one INT. There was also this:
The defense would like to add this:
That's not much to go on. Let's make our data big, at least insofar as it can be made so.
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. Stuff on Gardner from the last spring game post:
As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. …
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. … The QBs sucked on their own. …
Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it.
Robinson went out and did okay for himself after that business, minimizing its importance in our attempts to judge him. For Gardner it remains a big chunk of the time we've gotten to see him.
Here's the video of the year previous:
A summary of that from the immediate aftermath:
Devin Gardner looked raw as hell, fumbling snaps, scrambling into trouble, and reverting to that ugly shotput motion whenever he was forced to throw on the run. He looked like a freshman, which is okay because he is a freshman. However, the torrent of spring hype that suggested Gardner would probably not redshirt because he would be Michigan's best quarterback by UConn… eh, not so much. Maybe it was just a bad day. Even if it was an off day, Robinson showed enough to relegate Gardner to the bench for the first couple games and hopefully his whole freshman year.
Gardner did show the his deep touch on a third and long seam to Odoms that was laid in perfectly. Odoms dropped it.
Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
So. This is our oeuvre. Now consider Michigan's situation:
- They didn't even attempt a long pass yesterday, presumably because they were all covered. After tight end, wide receiver is the position on offense that could most use an instant talent infusion.
- Most of the unambiguously good things Gardner did yesterday involved his legs. That scamper down the sideline… good lord y'all. It's not a big stretch to declare him the best athlete on the team outside of Denard, and given that size and wingspan he could be pushing close to #16.
- Bellomy looks like a competent game manager should the need arise.
- Given Robinson's previous two seasons at QB, the need almost certainly will arise.
- Moving Gardner away from quarterback gives Michigan exactly two QBs this year and next and means either a true freshman or low-profile redshirt sophomore starts for M in 2013.
What do you do with that? Hell if I know. If you still had Forcier around and recruited a 2012 quarterback I would be at the post office right now watching Hoke mail a bow-clad Gardner* to Jeff Hecklinski. If there were enough of us and a fiddle we'd probably be singing Hava Nagila and dancing.
*[He's also wearing a full uniform, pervs.]
In Michigan's current situation, moving Gardner is asking for this interlude in game nine:
MCDONAUGH: Michigan's quarterback is now Jack Kennedy. Ask not what your team can do for you, Jack, amirite?
MILLEN: He looks really, really sweaty.
MCDONAUGH: Astute observation, Matt. Jack Kennedy is soaked in a bodily fluid we dearly hope is sweat.
MILLEN: Someone should get him an IV. I… what is that? That can't be healthy.
MCDONAUGH: Jack Kennedy is leaving a trail of viscous material behind him that must be a slurry of sweat and pure, distilled fear. Here's the snap. Kennedy hands off from the I-form… Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: Can all that fluid really be coming out of his body?
MCDONAUGH: Take it from my uncle Morty: all that and more. Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: How can he even hold on to the ball?
MCDONAUGH: I have no idea. This series of one-yard losses may be the most heroic in football history. Vincent Smith tackled for a loss of one.
MILLEN: Just look at him not fumble that snap despite having lost half his body weight in the past six minutes.
MCDONAUGH: It's kind of beautiful.
MILLEN: For spacious skies. For aglumb waves of grain. For purple mounted mohair above the fruit-tossed Spain. AMERICAAAAAAA—
MCDONAUGH: Hagerup in to punt.
MILLEN: –AMERICAAAAAAAA, GOD SPED HIS FACE ON THEEEEEE. AND CROWN THY HOOD WITH BROTHERGOOD FROM PEA TO SHINGLING PEA.
MCDONAUGH: Inspiring stuff from Ann Arbor. Michigan has six yards of offense at the half. We'll be back after this commercial break.
SCENE. This may have been drug-induced.
Anyway. They'd probably just put Gardner in and hope they hadn't stunted his development to the point where he'd be totally useless. Things would go poorly.
Could you blame them that much, though? If Hoke reaches for the brass ring next fall and it blows up in his face because Denard goes down and the guy who was supposed to be his backup is at wideout, I probably wouldn't even be mad. It would suck, but I want a guy who will swing for the fences.
While the coaches are going out of their way to make it sound like that is not in the cards, sometimes the relationship between reality and what coaches have to say to not have horrible things happen is great. If Devin wants to be the #2 QB going into fall Michigan would be foolish not to downplay the WR stuff until he's on campus in the fall. Once he's there, then talk to him about moonlighting while still being the #2.
Gun to the head, I think he does see a lot of time at WR in fall camp. He'll still practice most of the #2 QB snaps but also taking a share of snaps at WR when Denard is out there. They'll teach him one of the four spots—probably Hemingway's—and use him in certain three and four wide receiver packages for 15-20 snaps a game. If he proves to be a top-flight guy quickly Michigan might not have much choice about using him more in tight games, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
If Denard goes down for any length of time, it'll be Devin.
Meanwhile there are 20 or 21 other positions Michigan has to fill…
All Eyes(z) On Campbell
"It just means I can't slip at all, because I got 120 eyes on me now," Campbell said of leading the team on the field.
Well… there's no denying he looked a lot better.
Like, a lot. Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
Mattison and Hoke hated it, though, hated everything. I am factoring in further improvement as this line Heningers themselves into ship shape by fall. Enough to survive a 'Bama onslaught? Probably not, but they'll be okay afterwards.
Other DL Items
Roh and Black each showed some pass-rush ability from their spots and neither got ostentatiously rammed into the endzone on a big run play. The going was tough for the offense. With four-ish starters back from an OL that paved the way for Michigan running backs—IE, no Denard—to average 5.7 YPA last year, I'll place that in the good column. The extremely tenuous good column.
One nice thing the moves do is it allows Mattison to play a ton of games with his line. Black and Roh can both function as outside DEs just fine, so Mattison can call plays where the line slants and stunts such that one of those guys ends up playing a WDE-ish slot whenever he wants. What Michigan lacks in bulk they'll have to make up for with quickness and the element of surprise; Mattison will have some chess pieces to do that with next year. Note that the touch sack on the Gardner waggle came from the containing… Black. Usually your three-technique is not the guy asked to do that.
The depth here was also encouraging. Richard Ash made a couple nice plays, which I was not expecting. One was an excellent string-out on a stretch play that forced the tailback to awkwardly cut behind him. I was beyond not expecting that. I don't think John Gasaway will get on me if I say I was shocked. Yeah. Later he showed up two yards in the backfield directly in the path of an iso; he got blocked from the side but the bounce he forced saw Marvin Robinson chop poor Vincent Smith down for a one-yard loss.
Redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman also was a standout on the second units, though his inability to flow down the line at the proper angle was the main issue on Rawls's fourth-and-short touchdown. He got into the backfield plenty. Once you've got a guy who can get there it's not that hard to get him to take the right angle against air.
Toussaint clubberates Morgan, via the Wolverine
None serious. Desmond Morgan took a cut block from Fitzgerald Toussaint and limped his way to the sidelines for the day; a source indicates that is not serious and shouldn't affect him at all. Jerald Robinson also had a minor boo boo that should not affect him.
The only player to miss the game was backup SDE Nate Brink, and that injury was no surprise since it happened before the Sugar Bowl. Barring a non-contact injury, Michigan should hit fall camp with everyone on the roster ready to go. Everyone save Brink, the suspended Josh Furman, and the mysteriously absent-but-returned now Tamani Carter got a full spring session in.
So they've got that going for them. That's a lot better than last year when five or six important players, including Toussaint and Lewan, were sidelined.
The Burzynski Start
World, meet Joey Burzynski, the redshirt sophomore walk-on who started at left guard in the spring game. That's not a huge surprise since a lot of shadowy spring practice reports praised him as a potential contributor and he had seen some time with the ones in the King of Tight Frames' highlight videos throughout the spring. His start may not mean anything more than Michigan wanted a decent right tackle (Elliott Mealer) on the second unit to give Bellomy a little time, but the guy started the spring game and must be considered an obvious member of the two-deep.
This is a development that strikes me as concerning. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant has been getting a lot of shadow praise for a year now and he doesn't seem to be anywhere close to finding a starting job. Not only is he behind Mealer on most days when Mealer is a guard, he's behind Burzynski. Decrement your Bryant excitement meters.
No offense to Burzynski, but until proven otherwise the assumption here is that the spot featuring a walk-on is going to be a problem. Even if it's not that's a spot that will be subject to fierce competition in fall.
Q: does Michigan have enough faith in one of its incoming freshman tackles to move Kalis from primary tackle backup—this site's assumed role for him as a freshman—to left guard competitor? A: Dunno. I do know they like Ben Braden a lot, like far more than the recruiting sites did. Whether he's got the polish to be that third tackle or not I don't know. I would look at insta-move of Kalis inside as a good sign as far as Magnuson and Braden go. That'll be something to watch for in the spring.
Thomas Rawls: Ramming Speed
We got a few carries from Toussaint to remind us that yes, Virginia, Michigan has a true feature back again. The headliner amongst the backups was sophomore Thomas Rawls, who showed a knack in short-yardage ramming and the sort of spread-oriented north-south RAGE runs that Brandon Minor used to specialize in.
It was the short yardage that was most impressive. Michigan's OL was rarely getting Rawls the holes they intended to get him. I'll leave the debate about whether that was Mattison's DL being better than expected or the OL worse for people who enjoy debating impossibilities; what was certainly impressive is that when that happened to Rawls he downshifted behind wherever the intended hole was supposed to be and burst into the next one over—closer to the middle of the field. He lowered his head, knocked guys back, and showed enough presence of mind to reach the ball across the goal line when he was suspended near it. Your short-yardage back: check.
Rawls also displayed that north-south bowling ball mentality on a couple of belly plays from the gun on which flailing arm tackles failed to bring him down and he fell forward after contact. He's got enough of a package to also provide breathers for Toussaint when he wants out. He'll get 5-10 carries a game this year and fill a role. Not sure if he'll ever reach feature back status with two more years of Toussaint and the Isaac(?)/Smith cavalry coming in next season, but he doesn't have to to be a good idea.
Vincent Smith: Did I Do Something Wrong?
Dear Tiny Jesus,
It's me, Vincent. All praise to your save percentage. Could you make sure the spring game is the last time I ever run an iso play from under center? I never go anywhere and it hurts a lot when six 300 pound defensive tackles fling me into the natatorium.
Congratulations on your call-up with the Blue Jackets.
Tiny Bros Before Other Bros,
(Smith will be the third down back again and will level some dudes way bigger than he is to open up third down conversions. The power of Rawls hopefully compels Michigan not to run Smith out of the I any more.)
Spring game disclaimers apply, but where were Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree? They were out there. They were not targeted frequently. IIRC Roundtree got a hitch from Robinson on the first drive and then was not gone to again. Robinson featured from time to time but never as a downfield receiver, always as a checkdown option and usually a checkdown option being given a crappy pass.
The only receiver to make an impact was Gallon. I'd prefer Michigan's main target to be a big dude with a bigger catching radius, no offense Denard.
Secondary Status Quo
After a series of video clips heavily featuring comer Terrence Talbott with the ones instead of JT Floyd it was Floyd who got the start Saturday. He played well, making quick tackles on the short stuff. Later he broke up a slant on a goal-line situation only to get a horsecrap PI call (BOOO PRETEND REF, BOOO). While Talbott got some run, I don't think Floyd's job is under serious threat. Especially after Mattison gushed about him at that Glazier clinic some months ago.
As a unit the secondary was excellent. Countess got a pick and there were very few downfield completions. A skinny post from Gardner to Gallon stands out as the only one of note. Default note about how that makes the WRs look bad goes here; comparison to Michigan defenses pre-Mattison also does. To virtually skunk an offense in 60 plays is quality. With Talbott emerging Michigan seems to go four-deep at corner, maybe five or six depending on how ready Hollowell and Taylor are. The comparison to the Never Forget days is wondrous.
If the depth isn't quite as good at safety at least Jarrod Wilson and Marvin Robinson seemed on top of things… most of the time. Wilson was the guy Rawls made most of his highlights against. If either starter goes down there will be some hairy moments. One of the two should be able to replace 80% of Kovacs next year.
Robinson is out of the doghouse and to see him play well was good because I'd gotten some practice buzz that indicated he was out of shape. He's obviously not; he seems tuned in. Michigan will need him. Even if Furman's stuff was as minor as his lawyer suggests he'll be behind this fall. If it's not as minor he might not be available for a while.
Do Not Be Alarmed, Rich Rodriguez Is Still In Arizona
Formations and such: Michigan still can't run out of the I worth a lick, which is fine by me. I suppose we have to downshift into that stuff eventually, but I'd rather it be clear as day that the way to go is shotgun just to prevent any further Iowa-like misunderstandings of where Michigan's capabilities lie.
Aside from that the most interesting aspect of the day's formations was the most common set: two backs, three WRs, shotgun. That was the meat and bones of the spread and shred in its Slaton/White/Schmitt heyday and Michigan has a pretty good replica of that in Toussaint/Robinson/Hopkins, albeit without the spread-oriented OC and the lethality of the spread in the early aughts as allies.
This says what everyone expects about the TEs—yuck—and suggests that if Michigan can't block 'em they're going to spread 'em. If it's going to work they are going to have to make that gray area defender pay for cheating. We'll see.
Brandin Hawthorne: Mauler of Walk-ons
The most interesting thing that happened after Jack Kennedy entered, signaling the end of serious attention from most folk, was Brandin Hawthorne going ham. He shot a gap for a backfield TFL reminiscent of his slice into the Irish backfield late in that game, then intercepted a TE-bound ball on the next play.
He made a few other tackles here and there and looked… really good.
Now, we've seen him on the field and there's only one way Hawthorne making contact with a Big Ten blocker ends. That would be "poorly," and that would be why Desmond Morgan took his job last year and won't give it back this year.
I'm just saying, though. Just sayin' that when Michigan goes to a nickel package on a passing down I think having Hawthorne in there as a blitzer and cover guy instead of Morgan would behoove Michigan. Morgan's a little ponderous on his pass drops, and if it's a passing down Hawthorne's limitations against rushes aren't relevant. Just sayin'. Throwin' it out there.
You, athletic department intern who has to read these things: don't say you got it from me. Ask Mattison to repeat that thing he was saying a couple months ago about using Hawthorne as a nickel WLB and how smart that seemed even before he was killing walk-ons in the spring game. Yeah.
- Bellomy ran a QB power from the gun, so it's still there and it might stick around for a while. Bellomy did decently with it.
- There were also a few inverted veers, none of which went for a ton of yards. Gardner did impressively juke himself into a crease outside on one; he was blown dead before he could test it.
- Kaleb Ringer had an impressive track-and-tackle on Hayes in the open field off a dumpoff. Next play he whiffed a tackle on Toussaint (I think it was him).
- Jeremy Jackson's lack of separation from Blake Countess was… not surprising.
- Demens blanketed a Brandon Moore TE out that Gardner shouldn't have thrown but did; he made a nice play on the ball. His coverage is an underrated aspect of his game.
- Antonio Poole only popped up on my radar when he lost leverage on a Gardner scramble late.
Weather could have been worse. This is what Indiana was facing down for their now-cancelled spring game:
Tre Roberson put the One Ring into the fires of Mount Press Box and things returned to normal.
Random picture on the twitter:
Tuley-Tillman, Bosch… OH GOD WHAT DID THEY DO TO DENARD BREATHE BREATHEEEE
LaQuon Treadwell with Morris and Bosch:
Alumni game recap at AA.com.
Bullets and whatnot from:
Also AA.com has an article on Burzynski.
“From an overall perspective, 15 days, I think we really had a nice spring offensively. We got a lot of questions answered, I think. Had a chance to do some experimenting, although we didn’t use any of it today, but we did some things and turned another page in our offensive approach. I think people we knew could play pretty much proved they could play, and we found a few guys along the way that I think are going to be contributors. We still have a ways to go. It’s still a typical spring game. The amount of times I’ve come out of a spring game and been happy I can count on two fingers in all the 26 years I’ve been coaching. That’s just kind of the way it is. But we got something done, and that’s what’s most important, is getting a chance in front of our fans to do some deals, do some things and I think we got something done, and that really was the goal for today.”
Can you talk about Ricky Barnum’s progress. Did he meet your expectations?
“Yeah Ricky’s come a long way for a position that he really hasn’t played very much. But I mentioned to you guys before, I think from a profile perspective, Ricky fits that position better than he probably does any other position. He’s a smart kid that plays with good leverage, knows how to use people around him. Now that he understands the calls and how to put everybody on the same page, that really makes a big difference at that position, because you’re not forced to block people one-on-one constantly. That’s the thing about playing center, is there’s a lot of that going on. He’s done a nice job. I’m really happy with Ricky.”
We didn’t see a whole lot from the receivers today. Who are some of the guys that can really step up and compete for playing time with Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon?
“Well I think Jerald Robinson is one guy you’re going to see more and more of. He got banged up a little bit I think somewhere, I don’t know, but nothing serious. But I think he’s a guy you’re going to see step to the forefront because he’s been very prominent in our practices. Jeremy Jackson and Drew Dileo have also been very very active in our passing game. So I think those people and then if some of the freshmen come in and show up and aren’t awed by their surroundings, they may be able to contribute. I think we’re good at the position. We’d like to be deeper, but I think we’re pretty good.”
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy. We have three quarterbacks who I think … I’m not sure when their major contributions are going to come -- two of them, anyway -- but I think there will be a point in time when they’ll make a major contribution. I’m happy with the position.”
Rawls had some nice runs. Can he potentially be the more physical back you’re looking for?
“Yeah. He’s a different kind of runner than Fitz and a differnet kind of runner than Vince and Justice Hayes too, in that he’s a battering ram type of guy. He goes in there and when Thomas hits you you’re going to feel him. He makes no concessions to the defense. He’s got a little bit of stop and go ability, but I would not say that’s his game. His game is running through people and making it very difficult to tackle, and following forward. He’s done that all spring. You only saw a little bit of it today. In the 14 days previous, we’ve seen quite a bit of it. He’s another guy that, you have to understand our appraoch was not to entertain today. Our approach was to find out more about our football team. He’s one of the guys we wanted to find out [about], and he was going to be featured. The players that we needed to know about were the guys we let play more, him being at the top of that list.”
What did Burzynski do to push his way into a starting spot than guys who have been there longer?
“Well he worked his butt off. He’s still not in the starting position but he’s competing for one certainly. He’s worked his butt off and he’s very coachable. He’s worked hard for Coach Wellman. He’s very attentive. He takes everything to heart. It’s very important to Joe that he improve, and a guy like that is going to improve if that’s your appraoch. When you’re a walk-on and you’re battling to get in that depth, you’ll never get in that depth until you get someone’s attention. He just did a good job. We’re not really deep at offensive line. He’s had opportunities, and he’s taken advantage of them.”
When did he get your attention?
“We saw some last year. More this spring, you know. Early on he became a factor and decided that he was going to step up and compete for the postiion, but I would say the first three or four days of spring football.”
What was he showing you?
“Good, explosive get-off, number one. Good hand placement. Good hat placement on his drive and zone blocks. Pretty solid pass protector. Had a good feel for playing games, working with the guy next to him. When you’re not the most gifted guy, you have to have something else that llows you to play. Joe’s not a bad athlete, but he’s probably not as athletic as some of the other guys. That means you have to study the game and play with awareness. And I think that’s what he’s done as much as anything to put himself in the position that he’s in.”
Did he show any of these signs last season?
“Yeah, some. Some. Because the depth was different, it wasn’t as critical that we have him step up. Well the depth’s not quite what it was, now there’s an opportunity there. We tell the players every time there is [and opportunity] to seize the moment. He’s seizing the moment.”
We heard more about Chris Bryant at the end of last season than this spring. What does he need to do to get better and get back on track to play?
“Just keep going the way he’s going. He’s been set back from being banged up a little bit, too. Nothing major. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. The one thing you have to understand about an offensive linemen: in my opinion, I think offensive line is the most developmental position on the entire football team. There are very very few that can step up on day one and be right with it. Now every so often you get a tailback. I know when I was at UCLA, I had DeShaun Foster. The day he stepped on campus he was the best tailback we had and we had to find a way to play him. But you don’t find many linemen like that. Usually they have to go through some growing pains, get a little stronger, get a little more aware, and do some of the things I’m talking about with Joe. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. He just needs a little more of that development.”
Denard said he only threw off his back foot one or two times this spring. Was that the major improvement he made? Are there other areas he’s improved?
“That was the biggest one. There are two things. And you didn’t see much of Denard today, but if you could have you would have appreciated this a little bit more -- and I want to see it [keep] going before I go on about it too much. I’d like to see some carryover, but the two things that have gone away in Denard’s game is falling off throws or throwing off your back foot as you say, and number two is indiscriminate decision making. He had very very few interceptions this spring. Very few. He had cut his interceptions from last spring to this spring four times. Four times [fewer] interceptions. And that’s not unusual now for a guy that didn’t understand the offense. I said that last year our passing game was a drastic disparity from what they had done in years past, and there’s going to be some growing pains. We have to take the step into the fall because it’s all irrelevant if you don’t, but our passing game is enhanced immeasurably.”
“The thing I would say starting out is we have a long way to go. When watching from the side and seeing what I thought I saw, we’ve got to become a lot more physical. We’ve got to improve a great deal over the summer. The good news with that is our staff and this program believes in working very hard at improvement over the summer and not just lifting weights. I think we’ll make a lot of gains this summer.”
Blake Countess had a nice INT today. Can you talk about his spring and maybe your feelings on the secondary as a whole?
“The thing that I was pleased with with Blake is I’m always leery of a freshman who has success and then what is he going to be like that next year? You’ll tell really big what he’s going to be like in the spring. Blake has come out every day and worked to improve. Blake has tried to become a better football player. I didn’t see any signs of a guy thinking that he’s arrived. As far as the secondary, I think we have a long way to go yet. You always are looking for guys to step up because you need to find who’s going to play every day, who’s going to go out there and do what you’re asking them to do, and you can’t miss tackles back there. You can’t do that. We had that happen. I think we have to become a better blitzing team out of the secondary. I think we called a pressure, a guy was unblocked and didn’t hit the quarterback in the backfield. That should have been a knock-out hit. Those kinds of things are what we have to improve on.”
Kaleb Ringer got a lot of snaps today. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s a freshman. I think we saw, and I think I said before, he should be going to the prom. But the good news is he has been out there to be evaluated and to be coached every day. And hopefully that will pay dividends and show him what he must work on this summer to make coming this early be a benefit.”
You did a lot of shuffling with the defensive line this spring. How much more comfortable are you with them this spring?
“I feel very comfortable with the moves. Very comfortable. I think that might be one of the bright spots of the spring. Craig Roh showed me that he’s got a chance to be a pretty good football player there because he plays with such a good motor and he’s so prideful of his technique. And now when he gets stronger, I think you’re going to have a good 5-technique. Jibreel Black has to really -- the key to him is how strong he gets this summer. He did some good things this spring, some other things he showed why you can’t play at 270 in there if you don’t have great technique. The combination of Beyer and Clark give us a lot more athleticism on the edge. All three of those things … have been very beneficial for us.”
Have Beyer and Clark separated themselves at WDE yet?
“No, they haven’t separated themselves. Beyer is a very strong football player and can run. What Beyer has to work on a great deal is he gets a habit of getting high. He’s got to stay lower. Then he’s going to be a real force I think. Frank, on the other hand, wants to run to make plays before he beats the block at times. He needs to take some of what Beyer does and Beyer needs to take some of what he does. Both of them, I have been very pleased with the two of them and how hard they’ve worked and how hard they’ve tried to improve on what we say they need to improve on.”
Was the defense’s performance today pretty indicative of what you’ve seen all spring?
“Yeah. I think it was. I think you saw we’re going to be a defense where if we lose one or two guys at this point before the freshmen get in here, you’re going to fall off a little bit. I think that’s going to happen when Des[mond Morgan] was out of there. That’s a key guy for us. But it’s forced us to put a younger backer, where you know we need a lot of help, under the microscope. When we watch his tape we’re going to know exactly how he did, and then you’re going to have to say okay we have a lot more work to do.”
Do you think you’re well ahead of where you were a year ago at this point?
“I don’t know if we’re way ahead. The thing is we didn’t call many defenses today. I think I only probably called four defenses the whole day because I wanted to see how they were going to play under the gun. I know Al didn’t call a lot of stuff either. We wanted to make it really really hard nosed. I think this group wants to be really good. Like I said, I think sometimes maybe you don’t believe what I’m saying, but we make more gains at Michigan in the summer with what they do on technique than a lot of programs. That’s a three-month period of them doing it, the same individual [drills] that we’ve done with them for 15 days.”
What have you seen from Will Campbell this spring, and what did you see from him today?
“I see that we need him to be a football player. We need him to not just knock people around, but tackle the football. Will and I have talked long and hard about that: that the ball is the issue, not how many lumps you can put on that guard or center. Will’s getting it. Will’s getting it and Will’s the key. Will’s a big key because you’ve heard me before, you’re only as strong as you are down the middle. That’s going to be our whole deal this year because we’ll be fine outside. Jake Ryan had a good spring. Cam Gordon, you can see he’s going to help us. Our outside will be fine. It’s inside.”
You mentioned the gains you make over the summer. Is Will one of those guys you’re counting on to lead those efforts?
“Definitely. Will is definitely a leader. Will is a guy that has bought in totally to being a senior at Michigan.”
Do you see that this defense is faster than it was at this point last year?
“I do think this might be a little quicker defense than last year. One of the biggest reasons is they understand the defense. That defense last year was all new to those guys. You can’t play defense unless you know what the problem possibly is, so you can play faster. Any time you know the defense well you play faster, and I noticed that this spring.”
How do you shore up the middle of the defense?
“Well I think a lot of it’s technique, but one of the things -- down the middle sometimes means linebackers and taking on guards. One of the biggest things we have to improve on is using our hands and not using high school forms. That’s what some young freshman linebackers are doing right now. But the beautiful thing is they have sleds to work on all summer. Little techniques that will help them be stronger down the middle I think we have in place.”
Keith Heitzman made a bunch of nice plays today. Talk about his progress, and how do you talk about the overall depth on the defensive line?
“Yeah, Heitzman is one of those players that may not pass the eye test when he walks out on the field, but you know what? He’s always around the football. I made a comment one day at a meeting. We were watching the practice film, and I said, ‘You know what? This Heitzman kid, before it’s long, he may be one of those Michigan defensive linemen that just plays hard and tough.’ He needs to get a lot stronger. He needs to get a lot better at his technique, but he’s a young kid, and I think that’s a big thing. As far as the depth, everybody had their day. We have to all have our days. That’s what bothers me. I can name every player that played inside and there will be one play where it’ll be, ‘Yeah! See, that’s what you’re looking for!’ and then you won’t see it on the next one. We need to get consistent. Mike Martin, you’d see it every play you looked at. Will Heininger you might see it every play. Those guys, we need to get that kind of consistency out of that front.”
So many young linebackers will be working on technique over the summer. How important is Kenny Demens going to be in leading them?
“Very important, because Michigan’s always a senior leader -- and Kenny Demens needs to work on it as much as the young guys. So he can be the first guy going and they’ll be following him along, but every guy -- there’s a lot of competition at that position. There’s a lot of competition at every position, but at the linebacker position there’s going to be great competition.”
Where does Brandin Hawthorne stand right now?
“Yeah, I mean he has that ability to make plays. You remember he started some games last year for us. He has the ability to make plays, but the key in our defense is a guy has to be a very physical football player and he has to play with consistency. Guys that make plays put a lot of pressure on the coach to see if you hit it right when he’s going to make a play. We need guys that are going to be consistent all the time. He’s going to be another one of those linebackers that’s going to be in the mix.”
Is it his physicality that needs work?
“Well he’s been a little banged up ever since he’s been here. That would keep a guy from being real physical.”
Did you play him at MIKE out of necessity?
“You had a number of guys banged up. Mike Jones had a hamstring I guess, and Des, and Hawthorne’s got an elbow -- it’s spring. A guy that plays the WILL can also play MIKE. He should be able to play both. The linebacker thing, it’s going to be a heck of a competition before it’s all done.”
Hoke said you broke a sweat in warmups.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah. I broke a sweat in warmups, but it was swell [Ed: I'm 90% sure Denard said 'swell'] watching the guys play. A lot of people say we weren’t going to get started playing the game because the rain and the weather were bad, but we actually got to play and [I] watched them play, and it was fun.”
Were you frustrated at all you didn’t get a chance to play during the scrimmage?
“Uh, it was kind of frustrating, but I love watching other people be succesfull, and talking to the guys making sure they do well, it’s all good. We had fun.”
What did you see from Russell and Devin?
“They were eager to make plays, and they were making plays, but we have to just stay focused and stop with all the three-and-outs.”
Were there things you were telling them as they were coming off?
“Certain things, like make sure you throw the ball faster, [do] a certain step -- three-step or five-step -- some of that stuff.”
Would you be interested in wearing the No. 1 jersey?
“Oh man, that’s an off-the-wall question. I don’t think about it. That’s for the receivers. The 1 is for the receivers. I’m not a receiver at all. I’m a quarterback. I’m supposed to be the best quarterback for the University of Michigan … You can ask Roy that question, not me.”
So you wouldn’t wear it?
“No. I feel like it’s a receiver thing, but if they want to give it to me, I don’t know what I’d do with it.”
(more after the jump)
“I think the body of work throughout the spring is what we always want to make sure -- it’s always difficult when you just get done either a practice or even a scrimmage situation that we had to say who was good, who was bad, who did right, who did wrong, all those things, until you really look at the film. I mean, we can all perceive what we want, but you have to look at the tape. I thought the frustrating thing was we put three snaps on the ground. I don’t care who it is at quarterback nor do I care who it is at center. It’s fundamental football. Had some, on second and long, we jumped offsides defensively, which, second and long is a down and distance that we should be aware enough that’s where teams are going to try to get to that second and five where it’s a little easier for them offensively. I don’t feel like we tackled like we needed to. That’s concerning, but in the body of work there were some awfully good things during the course of the spring.”
What were some of the encouraging things?
“I think we’re tougher as a team than a year ago at this time, the way they come out and play with no pads on, pads on or whatever. That’s an improvement. I think, and I said this to a couple people last night -- the one thing I think we would feel though, point of attack defensively especially up the middle is not near where it has to be before we get to September 1st. That’s bothersome.”
Was the plan to not have Denard really break a sweat today?
“He sweated. We warmed up for a long time. You weren’t here. Yeah it was. We wanted to get, number one, Russell Bellomy as many snaps as we could. Get him with the second group there. And give Devin a chance to run quite a bit with the first group. That’s all part of it, yeah.”
Does the format of the spring game format set the defense up to have a better day than the offense?
“I didn’t see the defense have a better day.”
It looked like Brandin Hawthorne was playing middle linebacker. What have you seen from him this spring?
“He’s been beat up a little bit. He’s got an elbow right now. He’s coming off of surgery. He didn’t have much contact the first week. I think he made some of those wild plays today.”
Thomas Rawls had two touchdowns. How would you evaluate him this spring?
“Oh I don’t know. I think Thomas has had a good spring. He’s one of those guys who hen you look at the body of work, his physicalness -- he’s hard to tackle. You have to give him credit for that. He’s a good football player.”
Jack Miller played a lot today. How has he progressed?
“You know, I think every day he’s learning how to play center at the division I level. I think there’s been improvement and some footwork and the things that you look at from a technical side of it. I think that, and I think he’s got to continue -- strength gains are going to be huge for him this offseason, this summer, in the weight room. But I think Jack’s made progress. I’d like to find out, I think two of the three snaps were him and the quarterback, and it’s usually a matter of both their faults, but we can’t have that.”
What happened with Desmond Morgan’s knee?
“He got, uh, I don’t know. He got hit.”
Desmond Howard, ESPN analyst.
1991 Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan.
What did you think about the receivers this spring? Progress of the young guys?
“I think, Des -- I really like Roy Roundtree. He’s catching the ball away from his body better. I think just throughout the spring. I think Gallon has done a nice job for us. Jerald Robinson, he tweaked his ankle late today, but I think he’s made some growth. I think Jeremy Jackson has showed some great flashes. Drew Dileo is a guy you can count on all the time for being in the right spots. I think we’ve had some growth there. I really think Roy, and this is my opinion, really has improved a lot.”
Today aside, the top three guys at quarterback -- what stands out about their springs overall?
“I guess the first thing I’d say, is there’s a maturation they’ve had as a quarterback a little more. When you’re a Michigan quarterback, it’s pretty significant. I think you’ve seen some of that when you look at leadership, when you look at the fundamentals. I think we’re still not where we need to be or where I would like us to be with tempo, huddle, all those things. I think we need to be a little better there.”
How important will Jordan Kovacs be to the defense this fall?
“Well, you know, I think all 11 guys are improtant, but Jordan’s got a lot of snaps, a lot of experience. Very instinctive, does a great job with our back end, getting them lined up and his communication -- football intelligence, is a higher level. You have to have a guy like that back there. He’s not scared. I mean, he’ll put his face on you and that’s what you want when you talk about safeties.”
What did you mean when you said the defense didn’t have a better day overall?
“Well we’re too soft in the middle. Way too soft in the middle of the defense. Some of the read plays, they were too lateral defensively in my opinion instead of what we like to call knock-em back football. We didn’t do that.”
We didn’t really see much of a deep threat today. Who is the receiver who will be that guy?
“I think Roy has the ability to get some separation. Jerald Robinson would be the other guy.”
What were you hoping to see out of Bellomy today?
“Oh, you know, number one, it’s really his first kind of real snaps in Michigan Stadium. I don’t know how many people were here, but TV, all that kind of stuff -- just see how he handled himself, how he handled the huddle. I ind of ripped him one time because I didn’t think he commanded the respect he needs to command in the huddle. And he’s a young kid. He’s smart, knows the offense, and there was one throw that got away from him. That was a mechanics situation, but again, until you really look at it and analyze it and all those things, he handled himself okay.”
Are you going to consider handing out the No. 1 jersey this year?
“Yeah, we’ll consider it.”
Is Denard a possibility for it?
“We have a 115 guys on the team. They’re all possibilities.”
What did Burzynski do to put himself with the ones?
“[He] plays very consistent, plays with good leverage and good technique.”
Did he do something to beat out Mealer?
“No. You use the word ‘beat out’. Elliott didn’t start last year. There’s competition every day. They’ll compete all through summer.”
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
You talked about Roy’s improvement. What specifically has he improved?
“I think he’s catching the ball with his hands more, not catching it into his body. And his route running has continued to improve.”
Is that something that comes with maturity?
“Yeah. I think it does. But also because he’s played in this offense for exactly 14 months now.”
Now that you have a couple months off, how key is it for the leaders to continue leading the team?
“It is critical that they’re accountable in every action from the social issues to the academic issues and the competition issues that you need to have as a football team.”
With Fitzgerald Toussaint and your other running backs, do you feel like your running game is in pretty good shape?
“Between him and Fitz and Thomas -- everybody forgets about Joey Kerridge has had a tremendous spring. Paul Gyarmati is a fullback. Hopkins, I am so excited about Stephen’s growth as a fullback. He can be a big back in the I situation down at the goal line. He’s really come on. I think, you know, we’re as comfortable as you can be at this point with our personnel there. And I like them. I like them all. Vince Smith is probably pound for pound the toughest guy on this football team. You like to see that.”