national champs baby
photoshoppers, start your GNUs
So we did the meet and greet Q&A thing, and other than the liveblog portion being pretty much a disaster, A+++ would do again. I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with all the good info in the Q&A so below I've written up those answers plus some we answered after the fact via email.
We're tentatively talking another one the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, so calendar that. If you're coming in from out of town, Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who sponsored this whole thing, mentioned he's putting together a trip for that weekend that includes tickets for the game and a private tour of the Big House before we do drinks and ALL THE SHANE MORRIS.
Some things went way better than expected and other things not so much. Didn't go well: We had no way to plug our mic into the speaker system, fortunately remembering just in time that bartenders have friends with guitar amplifiers. The other thing that could have gone better is we forgot to warn Brian that Jehu Chesson was in the audience before your favorite blogger launched into his heuristic reasoning as to why Amara Darboh would be more effective this year because Chesson is still a waif.
New heuristic: Chesson sitting = Heiko standing minus an inch.
Did go well: lots of luminaries showed up. Players current and former included Chesson, Countess, Donovan Warren, and John Duerr. An incomplete list of bloggers: Bryan MacKenzie (aka BiSB), MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Lloyd Brady, M-Wolverine, Craig Ross, and LSAClassof2000. Epic shirts: Heiko's bubble screen smile, and a Branch-Morelli sweatshirt.
In things that surpassed all expectations, let me being with actual nicest guy in the universe Marlin Jackson himself. Walking out of the game to his car took about 25 minutes because he signed every hat, helmet, t-shirt or whatever thing put before him. We talked NBA decisions, how the Jake Butt TD was on Jarrod Wilson's as-yet-unadvanced field awareness, and that the biggest difference with this staff is they "teach football."
After being introduced by Brian as "the man who still has Reggie Williams in his back pocket," to kick off the Q&A Marlin talked about his Fight for Life Foundation. He was candid about his youth: Jackson grew up in the projects with a mother addicted to drugs and a father he never met. As you can imagine this isn't the best way to learn things like accountability, the value of an education, or even your own value and that of others. Marlin learned these things through Michigan; it's the goal of his foundation to give similarly underprivileged kids the opportunities he received because of his athletic talents.
Fight for Life runs three programs: Field of Dreams (link) is an in-school and after school program that basically helps get the kids back up to speed with their classmates. Seal the Deal (hyperlink) is a series of leagues and football camps for youth through high school with an educational/character-building component. R.A.P. (reach out and access your peers – url) is an SEL* program that gets kids to open up through, e.g. a discussion of their future aspirations or by presenting a paper on their favorite song lyrics. They need to raise about $200k per year to fund these programs.
* Social and Emotional Learning, the spread offense of education. Full context is linked above but you may cognate as learning that's the opposite of 'Another Brick in the Wall.'
We then talked about things like that one year the Colts paired Manning with a real defense, which receivers were the hardest to cover, and his impressions on the young defensive players at Michigan today. That after the jump. But first here's three generations of next-Woodsons:
The early enrollees to catch my eye were Dymonte Thomas, Jake Butt and Taco Charlton. Thomas played exclusively at the nickel spot; with Countess still not taking contact Avery mostly played outside. Anyway, Thomas's presence at the nickel is not unprecedented. They've wanted bigger guys there for a while, it seems. Michigan wanted to go with Thomas Gordon there before they determined he was needed at safety; Ohio State actually calls the spot their "star" linebacker, and it's usually featured safety-sized clubbers. Their current guy, Christian Bryant, may not wrap up but he will thump you if he gets a chance.
It seems like it would be hard to replace a long-term starter like Courtney Avery. In this situation, rumors that Avery is dogged by a chronic injury lend it some plausibility. Nickel is a spot at which freshman screwups are usually first downs, not touchdowns.
As everyone's already said, Charlton looks the part and then some. He was struggling in a drill before the scrimmage where half the OL would play half the DL on zone running, getting blown out of his assigned lane; once he got some time against the backup OL he dominated. Unless Cam Gordon's really good, he and Ojemudia will duke it out for the nickel DE spot Ryan's injury has vacated.
Butt looks like Funchess, except not quite as long. A redshirt would be ideal.
Here's some credence for Jake Ryan's mid-October recovery timeline: Chris Wormley tore his ACL in mid-August. Eight months later he took a bunch of contact snaps in the spring game. Mid-October is 7 months from Ryan's ACL tear.
Jibreel Black looked bigger than 276 pounds, frankly not far off Quinton Washington's girth. Michigan likes stunting him a lot, which is partially a way to take advantage of his quickness and partially a way to mitigate his lack of size. A stunt got that safety on the second play, as Clark and Black swapped. Both got past their guys, with Ross finishing up. Black's pressure helped force the near-INT from Morgan, too; he got a sack by shooting past Ben Braden.
Frank Clark and Taco Charlton had a hard time against Lewan and Schofield—no shame in that—and then started crubberating the backups. Since most of those backups are freshmen or walk-ons it's hard to get a read on how they'll do against mortal starters. Clark had a big cast on one hand, so increment your opinion of his performance.
Richard Ash made a couple plays, swimming past Glasgow on a Rawls run that broke outside because of poor contain; Keith Heitzman was able to beat the walk-ons but didn't do much against the starters. Matt Godin looked the part but has a ways to go. The SDE spot looks a little weak.
I didn't notice much from the nose tackles. I assume Washington is fine; Pipkins has another year apprenticing.
Linebacker Skynet is online?
That James Ross stick on Drake Harris mentioned in the previous post is becoming the most-discussed play from the spring game. It's as surprised as any of you are. MGoUser Michael Scarn picture-paged it, making the same assumption I did when I saw it: the linebackers are headed to the line of scrimmage as quickly as they are because this is a blitz.
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: according to mattison that wasn't an A-gap blitz
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: is that plausible?
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: what was it?
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: he said that was just them reading and reacting
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: they're that good
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: that's like skynet coming online
I don't think it's quite that. The blocking on this play is majorly screwed up. He's a screenshot from Mr. Scarn:
Jack Miller is in space, blocking no one. AJ Williams, at the bottom of the shot, isn't really blocking anyone either. He's moving past Ojemudia and only decides to block him once he sees air in front of him. Ojemudia should have to account for the QB if unblocked, so I think there's a reasonable case that you have two extra guys on the backside who should not be there, which then gets you the two extra unblocked linebacker sorts.
Trying to figure out what's going on with the defense is hard, then, because the play they're up against is a debacle. Yes, that's a little ominous. Let's ignore it!
It is nice that Ross reacts basically the instant Kalis tilts to pull. If this isn't a blitz, it is a killer read.
Whether this is over-aggression or Ross having magical pattern recognition is yet to be determined. What we've seen of him so far indicates the second.
Many eyes were on Gordon, including mine. I thought he did fine. In that aforementioned zone drill he was consistently getting the right amount of penetration into the backfield, holding the edge without opening up a crease inside of him. That ability to get the edge flashed on the negative Norfleet run. When deployed as a pass rusher, he was effective; nothing seemed to be on his head. Michigan will be fine at SAM.
FWIW, Brennen Beyer actually started. Gordon looked like a much better option, which isn't surprising since Beyer just got yanked back to SAM in the aftermath of the Ryan injury.
The safeties were not important. They got beat on the long Funchess catch (against Jeremy Clark, FWIW) and the Butt TD; most of the rest of the gains were to the outside. As we enter the post-Kovacs era that's a good sign. Jarrod Wilson is your tentative leader at the vacated safety spot. You might want to make that "heavy"—it seemed like they were running him out all the time in an effort to prep him for fall. Clark got more PT than Furman or Robinson, it seemed.
On the outside, Raymon Taylor gave way early after playing well. Usually the early hook is a sign of confidence in your abilities, so mark his starting spot in pen. Avery, Hollowell, Richardson, and freshman Douglas were the guys getting tested. Courtney Avery got beat on the opening play. That was admittedly a perfect throw that he could do nothing about once he had failed to get Darboh close enough to the sideline to cut off that space. That's a size mismatch. A little less salutary is getting beat by Jackson a couple times on comebacks and such. One of the memorable plays from last year's spring game was Countess having Jackson in his pocket for an interception; Avery was some distance from a not particularly fleet receiver. He did get a PBU on a bad Gardner throw underneath. That appears to be his comfort zone.
I was surprised at how well Delonte Hollowell showed. He broke on a lot of balls, getting some breakups, and he stuck pretty close to the shifty Gallon. I'm not sure how much that means when Michigan was dead set against playing him in the bowl game. Gallon is the perfect matchup for the tiny Hollowell. Bigger receivers will cause issues, and it's clear what kind of corners the new staff is after: big ones.
Terry Richardson got run over by Rawls. Hard to see him getting PT outside of passing downs, and it looks like Avery and Thomas are ahead of him on the nickelback depth chart.
Ross Douglas didn't stand out to me. During the anthem he was next to Taylor and seemed to be exactly the same height, FWIW.
Nothing much to note except that redshirt freshman punter Kenny Allen looked pretty good. I've heard he's been impressive in practice, as well. I'd imagine Matt Wile will keep the job since he has been a B, B+ option; if Allen takes it that's a good sign. Michigan looks set at that spot for a while.
Rittenberg notes that the fireworks were not on display:
Michigan fans didn't learn a ton about the 2013 team as the offense, as expected, was "very vanilla, very basic," as starting quarterback Devin Gardner put it.
If you're pining for the pistol, don't give up hope.
Also, Lewan noted some improvement from the line:
"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."
Toussaint is still the leader at RB according to Borges:
"We went through half the year (in 2011), and we said, 'We're going through this doggone running back by committee deal.' And we finally decided, Let's put him in there, leave him in there and let's go,'" offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Fitz came to the surface, and I think he will again (this year) before it's all said and done.
"He's certainly going to get a chance to prove it. I'll say that."
The starters were Brennen Beyer at SAM, Desmond Morgan at MIKE, and James Ross at WILL. I don't think Beyer is a starter-quality linebacker, and he didn't really make any plays. Morgan dropped an interception and failed to get depth on Jake Butt's touchdown catch, but he did look solid against the run. Ross looked fantastic at weakside linebacker, chasing down plays near the sideline and hitting running backs at the line of scrimmage. Cam Gordon looked like the superior player at SAM, made a nice tackle for loss on Dennis Norfleet, and blew up Butt on a Power. Joe Bolden looked solid at MIKE, but I'm concerned about the backup WILL position.
- Chris Wormley has been cleared to do everything.
- Brennen Beyer is temporarily moving to SAM until Jake Ryan returns.
- Dymonte Thomas is practicing at corner and nickel.
“Well, how about our basketball team, huh? Golly.”
Are you happy they recruited Mitch McGary?
“Yes. No question about it. I already promised him he’d be a five-technique right away, and we’d get him a lot of sacks. No question about it. I love him. It’s funny -- I saw him one time the team was going to eat somewhere, I just happened to run into him when my wife and I were out. I had never stood next to him, and I just looked at him and all I kept thinking was ‘Wow, would he be good as a five-technique.’ ”
WEEKS OF BREATHING IN A PAPER BAG HAVE PASSED BEFORE OUR PROTAGONIST FINALLY RAISES HIS BLOODSHOT EYES FROM THE TABLE WHERE HIS FOREHEAD HAS POUNDED A DISTURBINGLY DEEP GROOVE OVER THESE LAST, TERRIBLE HOURS. A RAGGED BREATH, and then…
CAM GORDON INNNER MONOLOGUE: YALL READY FOR THIS
IT COULD BE WORSE. Hello Cam Gordon, you senior you. You guy who has been playing SAM or its rough equivalent since Rich Rodriguez executed the last of his ill-fated in-season defensive rearrangements. You four-star athlete kind of without a position previously, now a strapping 233 pounds who saw plenty of time last year. You fellow who was getting a level of spring praise that might mean something even before this incident:
"Jake [Ryan] and Cam [Gordon] -- Cam’s had a tremendous winter. It will be exciting and fun to see the different things that we might be able to do with both of them on the field. Jake is one of those guys with his hand on the ground can rush the passer sometimes. It gives us some things that we can do.”
Can Jake and Cam be on the field at the same time?
You're going to be okay, you Cam Gordon senior you.
IT COULD NOT BE WORSE. aaaaaah not Jake Ryan, destroyer of all things.
What with the 16.5 TFLs and the 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles and being the leading tackler in both solo and assist terms and also playing pass-rush DE quite a bit on a team that badly needs pass rush.
Damn you, cruel fate!
I GUESS I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE MOVING TO SAM NOW. Less than ideal, this, but there was always a hole behind Gordon and Ryan in the SAM pecking order that got worse when it turned out that none of the four guys from last year's freshman class seemed big enough to hack that spot. Brennen Beyer started there, was moved to WDE last year to platoon with Ojemudia and Clark, and added a couple pounds only as Clark hulked up to 277. Gordon now has no backup save true freshman Mike McCray, and WDE has three or four plausible bodies in the aforementioned three and early-enrolling, 265-pound Taco Charlton.
Beyer or Ojemudia, likely Beyer, is headed to the other side of the line.
WHAT ABOUT NICKEL PASS RUSH. Well… Hopefully Clark can make a leap. Even in that case, Michigan lifted the NT and moved the SAM down to that spot. Gordon has experience doing that; he has not produced. Ojemudia may step into that role, or Charlton. Freshman edge terror in the nickel package is a spot at which freshman errors are not that lethal if said freshman is also turning in the proverbial Plays.
COULD THE DUDE RETURN? It was about this time last year that Branden Dawson tore his ACL and he returned in time for Michigan State's basketball season. Will Heininger tore his ACL on March 30th and dressed for six games the following season, but did not play until November 20th, the week before OSU. That season started in November; that sport does not feature guys trying to cut-block you except when you play Wisconsin. ACLs are no longer yearlong injuries… but this one is cutting it too close to count on the guy at all.
If you can get him back, you might as well play him. IIRC his redshirt was not injury related. You may as well put him on the field since it'll take another catastrophic injury for him to get a sixth year.
BALLS. balls balls balls
- TE Nate Allspach, S Drew Offerdahl, and DL Kenny Wilkins have left the team.
- Everyone who was injured last season (Blake Countess, Chris Wormley, Fitz Toussaint, Chris Bryant) will participate in spring practice in some capacity. Wormley seems pretty far along and may be able to do everything. Fitz is recovering faster than expected.
- Will Hagerup is still suspended.
- Manball is still happening, even with Devin at QB.
- Interior linebackers will be expected to practice at both positions. Earlier I tweeted that Desmond Morgan will switch to MIKE and Joe Bolden will switch to WILL. Ignore that for now -- they'll be doing both.
“It’s exciting. I like how we worked during the winter and the winter conditioning and that phase of it. Excited for Saturday to get started. Spring ball’s for a lot of different things. You find out your competitiveness. You find out the guys -- who’s made the biggest improvements since fall and winter. [We’re excited to] have a great competition positionally on offense and defense. And just excited. Really, we all like how we’ve come to work every day and what the guys have done from a genetic (?) standpoint and what they’ve done in the weight room with Aaron Wellman. So we’re excited.”