this may be of some local interest
Obviously Stribling had a really good spring, Clark had a good spring. What’s that battle like for the no. 2 spot right now?
“Well, all three of them had a good spring: J-Lew, Channing, and Jeremy. Really very competitive throughout the whole deal. We’ll just see how that goes as far as that second spot at corner as you were saying. But there’s going to be a lot of defenses where all three of them are going to be involved, so they all need to compete. Hopefully those younger guys we’ve got in—especially Keith Washington, Brandon Watson, now David Long, Lavert Hill—everybody’s pushing everybody to get better so just to make everybody better. I’m talking about J-Lew, I’m talking about Channing and Jeremy as well. Competition’s what we want back there.”
MGoQuestion: I know last year you kind of split half the field [with Greg Jackson]. Are you doing that again this year or are you working more with the safeties or more with the corners?
“You know, B-Smith and I, we’ve got a little plan together. We’re going to work more together, a little bit more together as far as meetings go so there’s going to be a lot of togetherness because the defenses we play, the communication is key and there’s going to be situations because of so much man we play where we’re going to need—there might be a safety involved in coverage, there might be a corner involved in coverage, nickel corner, safety involved in coverage so there has to be communication. That’s the biggest thing.”
MGoQuestion: How much more important, if at all, is run support from corners going to be this season compared to last season?
“Very important because of our trap system, the system that Don Brown brought in from Boston College. Our corners are going to be very much more involved in the run game.”
MGoQuestion: If we could talk trap for a little bit, how do you coach that for your guys? Is it brand new to them?
“I wouldn’t say it’s new to them. For them, it goes back to high school days when they were playing cover 2, when they were hard corners. Their read has got to be the end man on the line of scrimmage, so it’s really nothing new as far as they have to deal with. It’s just that it’s going to be more often than what they’re used to from I’d say a year ago.”
MGoQuestion: Who would you say is most advanced in run support right now?
“As far as a corner?”
“I’d say J-Lew and Jeremy. Yeah. We’ve got to get Strib more involved physically, but as far as eyes go I’d say they all understand what they’ve got to read, it’s just that those two guys are pretty much in it quicker.”
What do you think those top three guys improved most on from last season?
“I think, number one, their man ability. Big-time improvement. I think Jeremy really improved on his eyes. Strib, same thing with his eyes. Strib had a little situation last year with his feet; I think we’ve got that kind of, I wouldn’t say 100% squared away but little things like that they have worked on and worked on with a meaning. They knew it was something they had to improve on and I think I know that they came away from spring better off than they entered it.”
MGoQuestion: When you’re playing man free, I remember last year you were talking about how important eyes are. What do you teach guys to look at when they’re lined up across from a receiver? What’s the first thing you want them to look at?
“Well, if it’s press, it’s on the belt buckle. If they’re off, which we will be at times, it’s on the inside hip. It’s just belt buckle through the hip throughout the route. It’s pretty simple. Once the ball’s thrown, their hands go up, they know their eyes can go up with them.”
I think Jourdan Lewis has been on every list you can think of as far as preseason lists go. In particular, Pro Football Focus put him as the no. 7 overall player in the country among all positions. Do you think that putting him there is a true rating for him? Is he that good?
“He’s that good. Absolutely that good. He’s explosive, he’s tough, and he covers, so yeah. I think for his position, that’s spot on. Yep.”
[Ed-A: I eschewed labeling the rest of these MGoQuestions because they all are, as the other reporter left and I had a one-on-one talk with coach Zordich]
When you’re playing man coverage and the receiver’s coming at [the CB] and he turns with him, when do you then teach guys to get their hands up?
“As far as when the ball is coming?”
Yeah. Are they watching the receiver and then they put their hand through when--
“As far as when the ball’s coming, it’s belt buckle-hip-through the hands. That’s our little mantra as far as man coverage goes. And a lot of guys, guys like J-Lew, Strib, and Jeremy’s getting to that situation where it’s becoming instinctive. You know, J-Lew has it. He understands it. Strib has it, understands it. Jeremy’s getting it. You know, so a lot of the guys it’s just an instinctive part of their position that they get and understand. Some guys we’ve got to work harder on and teach them, but for the most part it’s an instinctive move.”
Is that something where when the receiver’s hands go up you want the corner’s hands to go up and through before he turns to look?
“Up and through, or pick it off. Right? Yeah. [/laughs] Generally that happens on a longer ball where your hand has got to go up and through. On the shorter routes, we’re trying to either bat it down or, if you can make the interception, go for the interception.”
[After THE JUMP: IT’S A TRAP]
It lives part II! When Homesure Lending sponsored these posts, Matt admonished me that his sponsorship was contingent on me actually doing all of them. So, yeah, next time you see him buy him a beer and get a mortgage. Matt just pinged me in case a refi made sense, demonstrating that 1) he's always on the lookout if he can save you money and 2) rates must be even more absurdly low than they were a couple years ago.
Formation notes: Michigan spent almost the entire game in nickel, as you would expect against a spread. There were only a few plays on which they deployed odd formations. Here RJS is a standup DT in a dime package on third and eleven:
This was "dime standup DT," because sometimes obvious is obvious. Michigan also had a couple plays where they walked out a bonafide linebacker over WR bunches:
But it was mostly standard stuff as Florida failed to threaten those formations.
Substitution notes: Peppers missed this game with a broken hand. Michigan moved Lewis inside and played Clark and Stribling on the outside. Thomas and Hill rotated at one safety spot next to Wilson. LB was the usual Morgan/Bolden pairing with both guys getting spotted by Gedeon.
DL was variable, with Wormley seeing time at three tech and SDE; Charlton was at WDE and SDE; RJS got a lot of WDE time. Hurst and Henry started at DT and got the bulk of the snaps. Marshall saw some snaps at WDE. Godin and Strobel saw scattered snaps on the interior. Brady Pallante even got a few plays in.
[After THE JUMP: way less data than the offense provided.]
SDE Charlton has been tough to handle [Eric Upchurch]
The most interesting thing about the configuration of the defense thus far is the weakside end. I thought they'd shift Taco Charlton over there and go with a very large and very fierce unit; instead Charlton looks set to start on the strongside and Chase Winovich is a tentative leader on the weakside. Chris Wormley spent most snaps I saw from him at three-tech.
While there's a chance that Michigan reconfigures once Ryan Glasgow gets re-added to the mix, right now it looks like Michigan will have a line that looks a lot like a traditional 4-3 under line instead of the mondo unit they could have had. One man's current guess at what a depth chart looks like in fall:
- SDE: Charlton, Gary
- NT: Glasgow, Mone, Hurst
- 3T: Wormley, Godin
- WDE: Winovich, Marshall
If they can get production out of Winovich that's an incredibly deep, veteran, and proven defensive line. If Winovich doesn't work out you can slide Charlton over and still have a great two-deep at the bigger spots, but this is Don Brown's first draft.
So… Winovich. After a rather wasted year spent at h-back he returned to defense, now bulked up to 245 pounds. That's light, but if he can get up to 250 or 255 by fall—reasonable—it's not eye-poppingly so. And WDE does fit his talents. As a recruit he was reputed to be Jake Ryan 2.0, and weakside end is a spot Ryan definitely could have played. Winovich has started gathering some hype himself:
Chase Winovich had himself a day at defensive end. We’d said all week that he was a bigger, stronger version of his former self. Grant Newsome definitely learned that Friday. Winovich won their one on one match-up, and was one of the best edge rushers on the day. On one play he literally flattened Newsome with a bull rush to get into the backfield.
Whether that's hooray Winovich or a collar pull about Newsome is in the eye of the beholder. On the downside from that report: on "more than one occasion" Winovich got edged and lost contain. (Yes, just like Jake Ryan.) He's going to have to cause a lot of havoc to make up for what projects to be a serious downgrade in run efficacy from the much larger and more experienced Charlton.
Meanwhile, apparently all that irrational Bryan Mone hype last year was shared by the coaching staff:
"He was one of our top players last year," Mone said. "We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."
I have many questions about that assertion. They will never be answered.
Mone seems to have picked up where he left off before his injury, but to be honest I didn't see much from him in either practice I observed. I wasn't looking for him much since nose tackle is just about dead last on my list of concerns for 2016; even so last year you saw Maurice Hurst blow through an assortment of players, including Graham Glasgow, en route to spring hype and a very productive season. Mone didn't deliver that when in front of fans. He did draw a tough matchup against Mason Cole, to be fair. I'm still waiting for him to indicate that he's going to be better than Glasgow was a year ago.
That said, Mone was very impressive in Florida:
He was rarely blocked one-on-one, and managed to still be effective against the double team. Twice in the early portion of 11-on-11 action he engaged Ben Braden, tossed the 322 lb. offensive lineman to the side with relative ease, and then got in on the play in the backfield. On another play he split Braden and Mason Cole with great off-snap quickness and nailed Ty Isaac in the backfield.
I'd have liked to see that myself; it's good that someone did.
Godin's playing time might get squeezed [Upchurch]
Chris Wormley is still Chris Wormley. He'll probably be incrementally stronger and better and this will be a very good thing indeed. Matt Godin had an impressive spring game, blowing through a number of second-string OL. I thought he'd be a better fit at SDE, where he was on relatively level footing with Wormley early last season, than three-tech but Michigan looks set to play him on the interior. That might make it tough for him to get a lot of time—he is not likely to pass any of the other four DTs. The current Taco/Winovich DE setup steps on his toes more than anyone else.
Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones played a lot as DEs on the white team and mostly got beat up. That's not a huge surprise since Kemp is a freshman and Jones is still listed at 222 pounds on the (possibly outdated) roster. I wouldn't expect either to break through this year.
McCray is a thumper [Upchurch]
Mike McCray is obviously the story of the spring here, and it was appropriate that he was one of the main reasons his team stuffed Henry Poggi on the goal line to end the Spring Game. McCray brings a load. At Ford Field he hammered a number of lead blocks like James Ross playing a Penn State OL. He is a tough customer.
What remains to be seen is whether he's a two-down backer or if he's fast enough to be an asset in coverage. Noises coming out of practice are positive. Per Lorenz Michigan is "quietly excited and optimistic"; Webb observed him have a lights out practice down in Florida:
Early in 11-on-11 action he met Ty Isaac in the hole and brought him down for no gain. A few plays later he showed nice feel in coverage and would have de-cleated Jack Wangler on a crossing pattern. His best play came later on in the practice when he timed a blitz perfectly and tagged Kareem Walker in the backfield.
While McCray ended up chasing a lot of completed mesh routes in the spring game I wouldn't read too much into that: mesh is designed to hang up man-to-man defenders trying to cover those drag routes. It did so with McCray. I'm assuming Michigan has better answers for mesh that they declined to show the public.
McCray did get juked by O'Korn on the final touchdown, but he was in a ton of space and did force the play back to his help. That help did not arrive in time. Ideally you get an open-field tackle like those Delano Hill turned in a couple times last year, but failing that McCray at least mitigated damage insofar as that was possible.
Ben Gedeon remains just as much of a default starter as he was before the spring. Harbaugh is saying all the right things about him, calling him a "stud" amongst other praise. When you've got a guy who hasn't quite established himself but will start because there are no other options save freshmen your floor can be very low—Johnny Sears is the canonical example. There was never going to be a way for Gedeon to disprove that this spring.
At least we have seen enough of Gedeon to estimate that he'll be all right—he was more or less a starter for a game in the middle of the season when Michigan was suffering through their ridiculous targeting call period, and he did fine. As long as he doesn't run upfield of blocks I'm good.
McCray's emergence allows the Devin Bush Jr project to have a more reasonable timeframe. Going into spring everyone was assuming he'd end up starting out of necessity; exiting it he's probably in the same position Gedeon was last year: a rotation player who spots both starters. That's still not ideal, but neither is it starting a freshman. Bush didn't generate a ton of buzz other than the occasional mention of a big hit and he didn't leap out at me. He was of course victimized by Ty Wheatley on that one play, but when you force a one-handed attempt to catch a pass you've done your job.
Noah Furbush did not play in the spring game, which is unfortunate since he came in for a reasonable amount of hype himself as Jabrill Peppers's main competition at SAM. Sam related that Harbaugh "loves" Furbush's attitude and general guy-ness, and he did have a number of impressive special teams plays a year ago. Obviously Furbush and Peppers are not particularly similar players—Furbush coming into his own would allow Michigan to move Peppers around.
Jared Wangler was out with a meniscus injury.
Thomas is fast [Bryan Fuller]
Another reason I wouldn't read too much into the crossing routes that were wide open all day: somehow the top six defensive backs* all ended up on the white team, and after the opening series we saw little of Lewis and Stribling. Victims on the crossing routes were often walk-ons.
Most downfield passes were attempted against guys who don't project to see the field much this year. Ken Stross was this year's version of Norfleet: a converted WR who gets bombed all day.
There were a couple of plays of note for projected contributors, this one the most impressive:
Dymonte Thomas came from the dead center of the field to get over the top of a reasonably well-thrown ball near the back corner of the endzone. He took off as soon as Morris committed to one side of the field, which is encouraging.
Jarrod Wilson, blessed be his boring name, is not making that play. I can't imagine many people do. If Thomas can reliably execute his assignments he has the potential to be something Michigan hasn't seen since Marcus Ray**: a bonafide playmaking safety.
The other play of note was discussed yesterday when we talked about Drake Harris and can be seen briefly at the 52 second mark of the above highlights: Jeremy Clark with fantastic coverage on Harris. I don't doubt that Channing Stribling's had an impressive spring, especially since he got the sure-starter yoink on Friday and this vote of confidence from Harbaugh…
“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone.:"
…but at Ford Field and the Spring Game it's been Jeremy Clark who looks like the guy.
Per Webb, down in Florida it was the other way, with Stribling on fire:
Channing Stribling was given the game ball by Jim Harbaugh after practice #4 and with good reason. … His route recognition led to numerous plays including two interceptions. His first pick came while covering Drake Harris and seemed to run the pattern better than his offensive counterpart before jumping it and intercepting the ball. He nearly picked off another pass… a deep out to Harris… where he also seem to run that route better than Harris also before knocking it away. His second interception occurred when the Sean McKeon beat Noah Furbush down the seam and Stribling slid over the top to help, skied for the ball, and picked it off.
I expect that competition to be hot and heavy this fall. TBH I'd be perfectly happy with another year just like the one Clark turned in, minus some of the absurdly bad luck he suffered. For Stribling to surge past is a potentially excellent sign.
Kinnel is hugely important for 2017 [Upchurch]
Tyree Kinnel was the other name of note. He turned in a pick-six at Ford Field and looked very comfortable in a box safety role in the spring game. Despite that, Harbaugh made it clear that the two starters have "nobody really pushing them right now."
*[minus Peppers, if he's more of a linebacker.]
**[Ernest Shazor's candidacy here was rejected since he made as many plays for the opposition as his own team. ]
Michigan didn't run any full-go, but there was the occasional thing of note:
- At Ford Field it looked like Michigan was trying to find folks other than Peppers to take kickoffs back. They can get similar production from some of their other fast guys and lighten the load on their two-way star.
- They did practice both NFL and spread punting; in the game they went entirely spread.
- Kenny Allen had a booming conventional punt. This does not surprise since he's been blasting them in practice for years. It is unlikely he has the precision that Blake O'Neill did but if Michigan needs to send it 60 yards he's more than capable.
- Andrew David has been tasked with rugby punting. He had a pooch punt that was relatively effective.
- Can't judge return units since nothing was full contact.
- Chris Partridge appears to be the main guy on special teams, with little help from other people, at least on the practice field.
- David was shaky on field goals.
I expect Allen to take the large bulk of the kicking jobs. Surprise!
[photo: Bryan Fuller.]
What are you watching for in the Spring Game? What is there to learn?
David: Brian and Ace did a good job during the Podcast of pointing out some of the main things to watch for on Friday night. Here are some additional battles/guys that will grab my eyes:
|No no the one on the right. [Fuller]|
Not De'Veon Smith running backs. At this point, we know who Smith is and what he can do. After him, there is quite a race happening. Isaac has been hyped a little, but he was last year, as well. Kareem Walker is a big recruit, but as of a couple weeks ago, he was still with the Maize group. Also, I guess Joe Hewlett has gotten some nice run.
Bobby Henderson at fullback. He's the only returning true fullback. They've moved a couple other guys (Hill and Poggi) back there, but I'm curious to see if Henderson will fend them off and be able to earn PT just because he will be more familiar with the position.
Dymonte Thomas and Tyree Kinnel at safety. Thomas blew up towards the end of 2015 and earned his spot on the field. He's a crazy athlete and a little more practice time could turn him into a dynamic deep safety. Tyree Kinnel is a guy I still wish they would have red-shirted, but he is also a guy to keep an eye on for not only next season but for the future. There's not a whole lot behind these guys. *We've seen Delano Hill before and mostly know what we'll get from him.
The rest of the tight ends. Jake Butt is YAY! There are also some interesting guys after him. Bunting, Wheatley, Jocz, and Gentry are all different kinds of players and each can create his own matchup problem. Seeing Wheatley slip out, Jocz block (ha), and Bunting/Gentry use their size against smaller DBs will be some things to keep an eye on that could get them on the field in the Fall...and very much diversify Michigan's tight end arsenal.
[Hit THE JUMP to find out who the coaches' thought their #3 overall player was at this time last year. Hint: he didn't play.]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
— ap (@plurjuice) March 26, 2016
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
How is the growing of a relationship with Brian Smith going? He’s new to you.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s great. He’s doing great. He’s learning the defense fast and we’re working together, working a lot more time together with the safeties and corners and spending a lot more time together. Everything’s going pretty smoothly.”
We talked to Jourdan [Lewis] in Florida and he seems really comfortable, maybe even more confident than he did a year ago. Where’s he at right now in your estimation in terms of his growth?
“He’s doing a hell of a job. Kid works hard, works his butt off. He’s been playing really well this spring. I think part of his comfort now is its year two in a system that he pretty much knows. Only new thing really [is] one new coverage that we put in that’s kind of changed things, but it’s a fun coverage for the corners. It’s a fun coverage for the secondary. I think the comfort level of playing press-man all last year and coming right back and doing it again this year really is comforting.”
Did he exceed your expectations at all last year from when you first got him?
“Well…being honest, watching the prior year on film, we watched all the games and he was impressive then. I was impressed with him, Strib[ling], Clark, those guys to be able to play man the way we wanted them to play man. To be able to handle that transition last year, that was impressive. All three of those guys. And now the carryover is very helpful.”
Where can he still get better?
“Jourdan? Woo, that’s a tough question. He’s pretty dang good at what he does. I think the biggest thing for him is just maintaining that level of play that he has, staying competitive. You know, maybe if I was being critical of him, use of his hands downfield. But he’s doing some really good things.”
I’m sure you’ve had other guys who are at the top of their game. How do you go approach them different than maybe a normal player?
“You don’t. You don’t. You just coach them the same, be consistent with all of them. At times you use guys like him and Strib as examples, but you gotta be consistent when you’re coaching. That’s what I try to do. I hope I’m doing that for those guys.”
Do you see him having an influence on Stribling and Clark?
“Well, you know, certainly his accolades from last year. His work ethic on the field. Very competitive guy. Those things, we all wish they rub off on a lot of guys and so in our room that can have an effect.”
Do you see him ever more vocally--
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He gets fired up on the field. Quiet off the field, but in between the lines he’s pretty vocal.”
[After THE JUMP: A new coverage, safety depth, the Glasgows, and Jabrill: not just an LB]