SPONSOR NOTES: We have determined that if the Iowa game goes badly user Sauce Castillo is the person to blame. This because it is not our fault, and it certainly isn't our lovely sponsor Matt's fault. We are going thanks to Matt, you see, and last time we did a blog road trip it ended… unwell. But that won't happen this time. Unless Sauce Castillo screws it up again.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: There wasn't anything worth screenshotting as unusual. Here is a picture of how this game went.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Speight was your QB until the last three drives when things went O'Korn-Morris-Malzone. The RB depth chart looked to be Smith-Isaac-Evans-Higdon-Davis, with Isaac and Evans getting the bulk of the work once Smith's rib issue sent him to the bench. Poggi (15 snaps) and Hill (21) split things about down the middle at FB.
No surprises at WR, and the lack of passing cut into opportunities to see guys down the depth chart. McDoom may have passed Drake Harris? Way too early to tell. Nate Johnson was about the only guy who surprisingly didn't play, FWIW.
At TE it was all Butt and Bunting early. Wheatley and Asiasi didn't get snaps until the second half, I believe. Those two and McKeon all got around 15.
OL was Newsome-Bredeson/Kugler-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson, with Kugler getting the first and third quarters while Bredeson had the second and fourth. The second team line was JBB-Bredeson-Kugler-Onwenu-Ulizio. With Kugler on both lines he actually got 59 snaps, more than anyone else on either side of the ball. FWIW, Michigan left Newsome out for one drive after the established players left w JBB at RT and Ulizio on the bench.
[After THE JUMP: hair]
Hello. This post is sponsored by XFINITY, which is a space company. They'd like to take you to Mars—
It's a cable company.
Ah, so it is. Good catch. Back in my day we had to watch television on big stone tablets, but if you're an on campus student you can sign up for free(!) streaming of live sports, including BTN, to any of your gadgets. Off campus students can get both TV and internet service for $79.99 a month with no contract. Non-students, also known as "sad adults," can check out what's described by XFINITY as the "immersive X1 system"—are we sure this isn't a space company?
Fine. Can check out the immersive X1 system here.
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: challenging. 1: crazy. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
This is a 1. [Bryan Fuller]
|Amara Darboh||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*||Grant Perry||So.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Moe Ways||So.*||Drake Harris||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Eddie McDoom||Fr.||Kekoa Crawford||Fr.||Nate Johnson||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*|
Michigan returns the entirety of a receiving corps that was amongst the best in the country by the end of the year. Last year's preview issued both inside and outside receivers a "2" in one of a few posts that were insufficiently optimistic about Harbaugh player development. That was accurate for a bit what with Chesson's inability to get on the same page with Jake Rudock and Grant Perry's freshman deer-in-the-headlights start; by the end of the year Chesson was putting the Florida secondary to the sword and Perry was juking guys for touchdowns on the goal line.
I have no reason to put this in the post but refuse to delete it [Seth]
Chesson enters this year a player highly anticipated by NFL types, usually named one of the top five wide receivers in the country whenever someone deigns to put a list together. Meanwhile, Harbaugh has spent the last several months swearing up and down that Amara Darboh is the team's best receiver. Per anonymous Big Ten players they're kind of a big deal:
“two receivers that they have, I think they are arguably the best duo in the Big Ten.”
Also Jake Butt exists. Whoever ends up taking snaps at quarterback is going to have a good time.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: OUT OF AFRICA, INTO ENDZONES
Time is rapidly dwindling for Tom Rinaldi's soft-focus feature on Michigan's all-African-refugee starting WR corps; it says here that by midseason their collective performance will demand one. I wish I could bet on things like this.
Let's start with JEHU CHESSON, whose single-season performance took off like no other Michigan receiver in recent memory. Last year's edition of this preview said it was "anyone's guess" who got receiver snaps other than Darboh and spent a big chunk of its time talking about Chesson's vicious run blocking. This was because Chesson was coming off a 14-catch season during which he was "imprecise" and had a Darryl-Stonum-like ability to turn reasonably well-thrown balls downfield into adventurous incompletions. Drake Harris was given nearly-equal billing based on a torrent of practice hype and a relative silence regarding Chesson.
A couple of games into the season it seemed like nothing much had changed. After the Oregon State game—in which Chesson failed to adjust to a deep ball and picked up a bad offensive pass interference call—I said he was "just not consistent enough."
Here began a parabolic upward curve that ended with The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson. Entering this season Chesson is hyped as a potential first round pick by CBS, NFL.com, and Sports on Earth. That is some kind of trajectory.
The breakout came in two stages. Against Maryland he had his first career four-reception game. He brought in a couple quick posts despite getting hit on or actually before the catch and burst open on another couple deep routes. He was overthrown on one and couldn't bring in a tough over the shoulder catch on the second. The latter was on Chesson—he didn't take the fastest path to the ball because he misjudged its flight—but all was forgiven on an eyepopping end-around:
Over the next few weeks Chesson established himself as a regular, productive receiver. From the Maryland game to Rutgers five weeks later Chesson had 16 catches, exceeding his previous season high. The 66-yard touchdown you see above was trumped by a kickoff return touchdown against Northwestern. I started comparing him to Steve Breaston. Chesson had a ton of catch-and-run chunk plays last year thanks to his speed; against Northwestern he impressively got the corner on Anthony Walker, the fastest LB in the Big Ten:
"I really feel like Jehu has everything it takes to be a great player, a great pro player," Harbaugh said ... "The only thing he was missing was tracking the deep ball and making those deep ball catches."
The lasting memory of the Utah game was a sure touchdown just evading Chesson's fingertips because he slowed down. While I thought that was the right play since he'd burned his man by yards, the lack of comfort and communication between QB and receiver was costly. There was a drop or two in there as well.
Chesson was the beneficiary of the Indiana defense and Jake Rudock's late season surge. He went off for over 200 yards, 64 of which were on a telepathic Rudock strike between four defenders. But even if you provide an Indiana discount, this was a new level for Chesson. He adjusted to a Rudock punt downfield...
...and on fourth and goal he went up and secured overtime despite getting nailed by two guys. Yes, that was just Indiana, but Chesson added 100-yard days against both Ohio State and Florida to end the year. The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson caught eyes nationally, and while yes it's nice that Chesson beat a top 15 NFL draft pick deep twice, for my money that wasn't even the best thing he did in that game. My vote goes to this incompletion:
Chesson also had a spectacular over the shoulder catch while getting interfered with. Reasonable people can disagree on which of the five spectacular things Chesson did against Florida is the best one, and there is your massive improvement in a nutshell.
How much of this was massive improvement and how much was simply being given opportunities Rudock was not affording him earlier in the year is unknown. You have to wonder what his season would have looked like with a locked-in Rudock from the drop. He wasn't any less open early:
Add in a few of those early bombs and expectations this year would be truly out of control.
Or possibly just plain accurate. Chesson has everything you want in an elite receiver. You can heap expectations on Chesson and he'll be fine with it. Chesson's an A+ dude committed to The Team The Team The Team:
Asked if he put in papers to seek information from the NFL draft advisory board this winter, Chesson nearly started laughing.
He says he's more focused on wrapping up his degree in May and finding a graduate program to enter for next year.
"Maybe it was naive, I don't know," Chesson said with a smile. "It's great to have individual success, but that's not where I get my happiness from. If I don't play and I see other guys being successful, that's great. If I feel I can help the team win, anyway I can help I'll do it."
His speed is unquestioned, and occasionally subject to absurd hype.
"People don’t realize just how fast Jehu is, said UM tight end Jake Butt. "He’s easily a 4.3 (40) guy. He might even run in the 4.2s in Indy.”
While that's only possible in the land of handheld stopwatches, Dane Brugler asserts that Chesson's a "loose athlete with galloping speed" and a "a legitimate fifth gear," and he's judging with an eye to playing in the NFL.
He's a terrific blocker. Chesson's proficiency in this department is such that you probably know what gif comes next...
...and there was little to no dropoff even as he emerged into Mario Manningham 2.0. Against Rutgers he wrecked a DE:
Michigan frequently motioned him closer to the tackle box and used him as a blocker against linebackers, generally with success. (They also lined him up as a tight end on occasion, but he almost never actually blocked in those cases.) He had 28.5 positive run points to just 8 negatives, and while a chunk of those positives were for what Chesson did with the ball in his hands every NFL scout goes out of their way to praise his work without the ball. ESPN:
Excellent effort as a blocker. Leaves it all on the field. Takes good angles and busts his tail to get into position. Big and strong enough to sustain blocks once in position. Throws his body around in order to make a block when he can't get into good initial positioning downfield. Love watching this guy play the game.
His hands are solid to good—36/38 on routine catches and 9/14 on challenging ones a year ago. He's 6'3". He's not a technician yet but if he continues on his current path it won't take him long to get there. (Brugler: "prone to body catches and needs to add polish to his route tree.") That's the last box to check.
His trajectory is straight up and he's got the physical and mental ability to scrape his ceiling. He's going to be great as long as someone's throwing it to him. All Big Ten and off the draft board by round two, it says here. The huge numbers required for postseason awards are probably off the table given the diversity of weapons Michigan has.
[After THE JUMP: Peppers! (Was addressed as a running back and is not in this post!)]
SPONSOR NOTES: Again, chances of this existing without Matt are somewhat less. I like to think this would be a thing in the world without the prod from Homesure Lending, but you never know. Matt's sponsoring another Football Eve this year, albeit on Thursday so it's Football Eve Eve. September 1st, 7:30,
Ashley's, first beer's on him.
[UPDATE: We've moved it to WOLVERINE STATE BREWING at 2019 West Stadium to accomodate more people]
FORMATION NOTES: I'm ready to give up on naming these things. A couple of attempts to clarify the lingo below:
This was a Peppers sweep to all the dudes. Michigan has six OL in the game and Cole is in a two point stance to the bottom of the line. This was "ace quad tight bunch" even though that doesn't encapsulate all the weirdness.
Here Michigan has two TEs and two WRs on the field, with Butt lined up in a two point stance and Chesson an inline TE:
I'm calling this "WR hide." If you see it below there's an "inline TE" named Darboh or Chesson or both.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Rudock, starting OL, and the starting WRs the whole way. Isaac did not play and Drake Johnson was limited to scattered snaps as Smith and Peppers took the large bulk of the RB snaps. Peppers also lined up in the slot, at H-back and as a wildcat QB. AJ Williams didn't get much time.
[After THE JUMP: one very big problem M tried to work around.]
[I didn’t label these MGoQuestions because it was a one-on-one interview]
Where would you say you’ve made the biggest gains from last year to this year as far as technique’s concerned?
“I think just kind of honing in on the little details of my technique. That was big for me, going back and watching past years and seeing where I need to improve and kind of honing in on the smaller details of things. Getting off blocks, finishing tackles, finishing plays were the biggest for me.”
With Don Brown coming in, are you guys going to be dropping into coverage a little bit more or is it about the same as what you’ve done in the past?
“Pretty similar. But his motto is ‘Solve your problems with aggression,’ so we’re going to get after the quarterback. We’re going to be blitzing a bunch. We had aggressive defensive coordinators in the past as well. Coach Durkin got after the quarterback as well, so it’s not too much of a change for us.”
Technique-wise, what does Coach Partridge or Coach Brown preach to you most often?
“Just really getting off blocks and finishing tackles. That’s the art of playing linebacker. You’ve got to get off blocks. You can’t stay on blocks, you can’t trade one for one. You’ve got to finish plays.”
You were saying you feel like you’ve made pretty big strides as far as shedding blocks?
“Yeah, I think so. Spring’s a big fundamental time for us and I think altogether us linebackers got a lot better in that regard.”
How do you get better at that? Is it through drills, is it through live reps, or can you study it on film? What helps the most?
“I think it’s a combination of all of them. You start with the drill. You start not against another person and you hone in on the technique, but once you get to a live period sometimes you forget all that and you fall back on your technique and you evaluate it at film [sessions] and try to improve.”
What, if any, differences are there from last year’s defense to this year’s defense as far as your assignments are concerned?
“The biggest difference?”
Yeah, if there are any.
“Pretty similar. I mean, for me personally it’s just being more vocal and making the calls as a Mike linebacker. Play a lot of man coverage. No secret there. We’ll be blitzing a lot so we’ll play a lot of man.”
[After THE JUMP: Learn how Carlo Kemp became Chris Wormley’s psedo-son and which NFL players’ film Amara Darboh watches]
I'm not in Chicago, but thanks to newfangled technology like interweb videos and this here word processin' program I'm still able to bring you a full transcript of Harbaugh's time at the podium. Football! It's almost here!
"Thank you very much. Great to see everybody here. Glad you all made it. Good to see people again I haven't seen in a while. It's been an enjoyable day. Having fun. Brought three wonderful players and youngsters with us today. I'd like to talk about each of them. I know them better now. Going into the second year, feel like more time with our players, [I] know our players well. We have a lot of top players as you mentioned there, but these three…
"Jake Butt, a outstanding six-foot-six-and-a-half tight end, one of the most gung-ho players I've ever been around. Can sit through a two-and-a-half hour, three-hour meeting and be interactive, be on the edge of his seat, walk out of that meeting with a bounce in his step, and put his football gear on, kind of the hair on the back of his neck is standing up, excited about getting out on to the field. And he practices, whether he's going out to hit a sled or rattle somebody's fillings, he's just as excited about doing that as he is running a post route or a corner route and catching a ball. Does all those things equally well as a route runner, as a blocker, as a teammate, and as a guy with some pizzazz. He's gung-ho. Enjoys the struggle of football. Really enjoy him as one of our top players.
"Also, Jourdan Lewis, who has been a every practice, every drill competitor who wants to get better every single day. He doesn't take time off, he doesn't diminish his effort at any time. He's an ascending player, an improving player. And then when he started to get the recognition of being a really good player--All-American, All-Big Ten, interceptions and acclaim--when he started getting the acclaim, he didn't change a bit. He went through the entire spring practice wanting to get better, wanting to improve every single day. And a high character individual. Has never been--has never said a disrespectful word to a professor, to a coach, to a teammate. He's just a pleasure to be around. He's...not one bit of incident or problem when it comes to Jourdan Lewis, and he's a likable guy. He's respected by everybody on the team, but he also has the personality of being very competitive but being very likable with his teammates because he doesn't act like the big man on campus. He doesn't act like the All-American. Just a very, very good person in all respects. Can't say enough good things about him.
"Amara Darboh, would say he's our top receiver right now. As we went through the season last year I thought it was Jehu Chesson, and then Amara surged during spring ball and they're in a very good-hearted competition there to be our best receiver. But again, as a gentleman, as a person, as a class act, a winner, a champion all the way, Amara Darboh. He went through our season last year and he became an American citizen. It was a great moment of pride for Amara and our team that he achieved American citizenship, and another player on our team that's a class act the entire way. Never an issue, never a problem, respectful to all that he comes in contact with. And not just respectful of people, he's respectful of their time, he's respectful of the game, just respectful in all forms and fashions. Feel very proud to have brought those three youngsters here to Chicago. Hope you're enjoying their company as well. And they're really good football players. Not just on our team, not just in the Big Ten, but also in the United States of America. Pleased to share them with you here in Chicago and I'd be glad to answer any of your questions.
It's been an entertaining offseason for yourself and Michigan football in terms of social media activity. How has this impacted the team and university during the offseason?
"I don't know that it has. I don't know how entertaining it's really been. Be glad to go through any of those specifics with you. Think it's been a very productive, healthy offseason for our football team. Was really pleased with our team, the way they went through spring practice. Thought it was extremely productive. Competition was very high for spots, for starting positions, for backup roles, for contributing roles, for specialty roles, so...and then, no real long-term injuries coming out of the season. None of the six-monthers. A few things here and there that we hope that the guys will be ready for the start of camp. Maybe one or two that may not, but our goal right now as we finish up the summer is the healthiest, most in shape, prepared team for August 8th and then we'll take our shot from there."
Something you've tried to instill in your players is to improve 1% each day with everything that they do. My question is what kind of improvements do you see from returning players and staff and new players and coaches in the fold as well?
"Thanks for that question, Trevor. Just the idea of can we get 1% better each day. Can we be better today than we were yesterday, can we be better tomorrow than we were today. The notion that improvement will lead to success, and that's the kind of improvement that really sticks. It's almost getting in shape. If you were going to get in shape, if you do it day after day, a little bit better, a little bit better each day, you may not see it in a day, you may not see it in a week, you may not even see it in a month but at some point you're going to see it and it's going to stick. That improvement is going to be there for the long run. So try to paint that picture. If it's one percent better each guy or we got one percent better as a team, then after 30 days that's 30% better. After 60 days it's 60% better. Even if it's .01% better each day then that would be something that's worthwhile, that would be something worth pursuing, aspiring to.
"Another way to say it is look at the NASCAR boys. They'll stay up all night long just to get one mile an hour faster. Can we get one mile an hour faster each day? That mentality simply put is better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today."
[After THE JUMP: at least a tenth of this presser is Harbaugh listing all the positions Peppers could play]
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]