good luck with that
|Joe Kerridge||Sr.*||Khalid Hill||So.*||AJ Williams||Sr.||Jake Butt||Jr.|
|Sione Houma||Sr.||Chase Winovich||So.*||Henry Poggi||So.*||Ian Bunting||Fr.*|
|Nick Volk||Fr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||TJ Wheatley||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
"Tight End and Friends" debuted as a separate post in the preview a couple years ago when Al Borges started packing his roster with tons of slightly different blocky/catchy types; last year I went with it despite the OC changeover because there were a lot of dudes here anyway, and hooooo boy did that bet pay off when Harbaugh came into town.
Here is your now-annual reminder of what I mean by these various positions. (I've replaced the Borges-specific "U-back" terminology with the standard "H-back," FWIW.)
- FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
- H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
- TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker, Kevin Koger.
- FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Devin Funchess if he could block.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
Not only did Jim Harbaugh bring out a Ross-Perot-sized chart that said "BUTT == ERTZ == FLEENER," he talked the like the gotdanged queen of England while doing so. And then emphasized that if you, kid, if you are not Ertz/Fleener Voltron that the whole gotdanged enterprise is liable to collapse 'pon itself.
JAKE BUTT is like… okay.
Butt recovered from an ACL tear suffered in 2014 spring practice to play in ten games and make 21 catches as a true sophomore. Now fully healthy in an offense without Devin Funchess and with Jim Harbaugh, every Michigan fan expects him to blow up.
This preview concurs. Butt is the kind of player Harbaugh has used to befuddle opposing defenses for years: the flex tight end. Michigan hasn't really had one since I've been paying attention. They tried to make Funchess one but gave up and made him a receiver. Michigan fans will be most familiar with the endless parade of Notre Dame flex TEs who were equally comfortable lining up in-line, outside, or in the slot. They were all named "Tyler" or "Chad" or "Austin" or something and they posed tough questions for cornerbacks they dwarfed and safeties and linebackers they could outrun.
That's Butt. He is a huge-radius target with a number of one-handed stabs to his credit already and the athleticism to blaze for 70 yards on a screen against Ohio State as a freshman. After his freshman year, Mike Spath got this quote from an anonymous opponent:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands. There weren't a lot of great tight ends in our league last year, so he could be the best this season."
Sometimes he just hangs out on the ground catching footballs one handed and oh hey there ma'am I did not see you why yes I have been working out how nice of you to notice
A little work from today.. pic.twitter.com/jOmzgujgmg
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) July 9, 2015
Perhaps we could get some gelato.
[After THE JUMP: High expectations, lower expectations, and an endless parade of blocky/catchy.]
when in doubt, picture of Peppers [Upchurch]
Maybe 500 students gathered for an open-ish practice on Saturday. Approximately all of them were dragooned by local media. We got an inside report from MGoUser Crisler Spidey; the thread on the board has maybe a dozen different takes as well. Blockquotes without links in the rest of this post are snippets from Spidey*. He would like you to follow him on twitter.
If Jim Harbaugh's goal is to spawn the next generation of Michigan sports journalists, he's off to a good start.
*[Sometimes the combination of the internet, paranoid coaches, and football is just terrific.]
Ding dings and boo boos
Amara Darboh had his left pinky in a splint. Freddy Canteen had his right arm in a sling. Patrick Kugler was on crutches.
— Jake Lourim (@jakelourim) August 23, 2015
In order of concern: minor, middling, a bit worried. A finger issue should clear up by the Utah game and wouldn't prevent Darboh from playing in any case; a shoulder/arm thing could be something that heals quickly or not; crutches are generally not good.
- Jourdan Lewis was dressed but did not participate. With various dudes in injury-indicating red shirts I would assume that means Lewis is obviously a starter they'd rather try to find their second corner with live-fire reps.
- Tyrone Wheatley Jr was on crutches, but we knew that he had hurt himself already.
- Spidey* caught this subtle thing: "Brian Cole, Karan Higdon, and DaMario Jones were all in uniform, but wearing running shoes instead of cleats. They participated in some drills, but not the scrimmage."
- He also said Jarrod Wilson and Mike McCray were both in red no-contact jerseys but dressed.
- Drake Johnson didn't play.
I wouldn't freak about the rather long list of names here; this is the point in camp where they've just come off weeks of punishing two-a-days and are trying to get everyone in reasonable shape before Utah.
Rudock looked far and away the better player, hitting his receivers with consistency and even getting a good scramble from time to time. Morris looked like Morris, consistently bombing it over his receivers' heads.
Let me reiterate how much better Rudock was than Morris. This does not appear to be a very close race at all. Rudock was connecting with all of his receivers, especially Harris and Butt.
Rudock got the great majority of the snaps with the first unit. Described as more athletic than what might have been thought coming in.. "A guy who may not win the game but certainly won't lose it." Performed much better than Morris, especially when evaluated with regard to poise, delivery of ball to the right spots and working through progressions.
The difference must have leapt off the field to those in attendance, because many of these takes are emphatic. Most of the passing was quick rhythm WCO stuff, which plays into Rudock's strengths—he's very accurate.
Morris still has a rocket for an arm, and he overthrew senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson past the end zone and into the crowd.
"Same old stuff" was another take. Reports from camp have been more positive than those originating from Saturday's scrimmage, so it's possible the students just caught him on an off day.
Wilton Speight got time with the third team late.
Also, Zach Gentry is enormous. That is all.
De'Veon Smith was your tentative #1 with Ty Isaac rotating in behind him and Derrick Green getting time with the second unit. Ross Taylor-Douglas made a few appearances with the second team as well, so 1) that's what position he's playing today and 2) Drake Johnson does not seem full go yet.
Kerridge was the fullback; Chase Winovich was the second option there. Winovich lined up as an H-back in the spring game and would likely reprise that role; he's not going to be as effective as Kerridge is as a linebacker deterrent.
Wide receiver & tight end
With Darboh out Jehu Chesson and Drake Harris were the first team guys, which is an indicator that Harris is for real unless his hamstring betrays him again. It does not give us much insight into exactly how much hype we should buy into—if Darboh was playing and Harris was out there in front of Chesson that would be time to (gingerly, oh so gingerly) ring the cathedral bells.
The scrimmage also gave further confirmation that Grant Perry is the starting slot receiver and that Jake Butt is going to be relied upon heavily in the passing game. Moe Ways seems like the #4 guy at the moment.
Jake Butt and Ian Bunting were first team tight ends, and Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi were actually the second team tight ends.
No AJ Williams is notable since there weren't any reports he was injured. Also notable is that Bunting got a number of snaps in 2TE sets with the starters. If his ability as a receiver is enough to offset what I imagine is still some pretty iffy blocking at 245-ish, that is encouraging.
Asking anyone to interpret OL performance without the benefit of replay from field level is folly. Nobody tried. The one note of interest is that the OL was as expected (Cole-Braden-Glasgow-Kalis-Magnuson) the whole time until late, when Dawson replaced Braden for a bit. With Kugler out Dawson is likely your sixth OL no matter what… and Braden's the guy most under threat.
Spidey caught the second team OL, one with some switches from earlier:
2nd team O-Line was LTT-Dawson-Bars-Pliska-JBB.
Kugler was out, remember. Previously Bars had been repping at RT and Bushell-Beatty at RG.
1st team tackles were Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin, with Mo Hurst coming in as well. Hurst played second team with Tom Strobel it appeared.
Interesting thing: seems to be that Willie Henry has moved to defensive end. He was playing opposite Mario Ojemudia. Chris Wormley also took snaps with the first team defensive ends. Second team was RJS and Taco Charlton.
That would be bonkers if that's long term. Godin received a reasonable amount of time and did pretty well with it in spots (he was disruptive against Northwestern), but moving guys away from defensive tackle after the Mone injury would be odd. Especially since that would boot Wormley to the second team. As experiments go this one doesn't seem likely to skip.
FWIW, it doesn't seem like the Henry move is indicative of an actual 3-4:
All even fronts on defense
— Zach Shaw (@_ZachShaw) August 23, 2015
We'll see how it shakes out. I do think Godin is a legit player. Strobel's presence on the two deep as a DT is a bit alarming since he's listed at 6'6", 270 and was recently bounced to tight end, which didn't take. For whatever reason he's played mostly DT at Michigan despite a build that strongly suggests SDE in an under, which is a spot at which Michigan could use some depth. Instead he's playing inside and they're goofing with Henry outside. I dunno man.
As expected: Ross, Morgan, Bolden. There were occasional dime packages on which Morgan was the only LB. Gedeon rotated in with the first team frequently.
With Lewis held out the starting corners were Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark—possibly a reason that the passing game was much more effective than the run game. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. Max Bultman paid attention to Clark and thought he was all right:
Clark covered Chesson most of the night and looked solid. He was never beat deep, but with Darboh out, he wasn't covering a true No. 1 outside.
Disposition of Peppers was the same as it was in spring:
Jarrod Wilson and Jabrill Peppers were the safeties, and on nickel packages, they pushed Peppers to nickelback, with Delano Hill coming in as another safety.
Second team secondary saw Keith Washington and Brandon Watson at corner, Wayne Lyons playing safety with Dymonte Thomas, and Terry Richardson at nickel.
Losing Blake Countess is going to rankle if Lyons isn't even playing cornerback. No idea what that says about anything. If things aren't going well they do have the option of moving Peppers to boundary and using Hill as a full-time starter. They clearly do not want to do that.
Reports on the kicking game varied. (As per the spring game, there were no punts.) Freshman scholarship kicker Andrew David did not make an appearance; walk-ons Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen were either wobbly or fine. Bultman:
Senior Kenny Allen and sophomore Kyle Seychel both took field goals, but neither was very consistent. Seychel appeared to have the bigger leg, but his misses were also by a wider distance than Allen's.
Sounds like the Harbaughffense:
Formations were mostly under center with singleback or I-form, shifting the fullbacks and tight ends all over the place. Slot receivers were usually just tight ends who motioned out the slot.
That might be a reason Bunting got significant time. He is a threat split out.
While I was looking for someone to talk to one-on-one yesterday, our photographer Eric Upchurch said redshirt freshman tight end Chase Winovich, who moved from outside linebacker this spring, seemed like a great interview. He was not wrong.
How is the transition from defense to offense going for you?
At first I wasn’t sure how to think about it, and just a little hesitant. I feel like, as most people are, going to a position that you’ve never played before and weren’t recruited as going through the recruiting process—it goes through your mind, here’s what you’re going to be, and then to go through a season playing [linebacker], you’re just having a blast with it, going up and hitting people and just playing physical and the chase. I always joked, I said, “they named me Chase, they didn’t name me Block or something else.”
But as the time went on I grew to really start liking it. The practices were more fun, [I was] more engaged, more versatile, you could take mental reps a lot, it was easier to see how people break, especially Jake Butt, and just go about their business, and I started to love it. So going into camp, I’ve never been this excited to go into a camp in my entire life.
With Coach Harbaugh and his styles of camps and his history with Stanford and San Diego and San Francisco, it’s going to be a battle, man. I want to be in the trenches or in the Apache helicopter this camp, you know, shooting the machine guns. That's how I view it. Every day is going to be a grind and if I can maximize the transition from summer to camp and linebacker to tight end and have those coincide, I think the days are going to go by great.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the interview.]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.
Tips? Hesitant about getting bombed on the message board? Email me.
The Harbaugh era seems considerably less paranoid than the previous regime. Practice reports are coming in from a lot more sources than they used to; no doubt this is partially because excitement sees a lot more people on the sideline. I do hear that they're less concerned about "X looks good, tempo is fast" reports getting out.
Tempo is fast, by the way. Harbaugh has brought a high-rep style to practices in an effort to get everything he can out of every countable hour. It is not exactly Oregon hyper-speed where all coaching is done after, in film. It's a lot closer to that than the Hoke-era practices were. A recruit's parent took in a practice and posted about it to a Facebook group, and his impressions match some others I've been sent:
1. Tempo of practice and the philosophy. Very different from last year. 2 sets of scrimmages per field. A play is being ran an avg of 25 to 35 secs. If they went two groups, they would alternate but each group ran a play every 25secs. So ... Coaches saw 2 plays every 30 secs. Ton of reps. Very different from last year. Coaches are coaching very quick between plays. Emphasis on getting the reps in during practice and correcting mistakes in film. Practice was very similar to how Saban runs his practices.
2. There really is competition at EVERYTHING. I saw several of these "competitions." A couple examples ... QBs did a "fastest release/ball speed" comp. On command, they had to throw a bullet pass 20yds. Malzone looked good. Several races took place today as well but most know about those.
Those were vintage 1990s; these are a lot closer to modern speeds. Michigan is running multiple reps at a time on opposite ends of the field with first and second teams.
(Aside: I can't help but draw a line between Hoke's deliberate practice pace and his program's inability to operate at any other speed.)
Practices have also been extremely long. How one practice can be longer than another when NCAA maximums are mandated for everyone is unclear; possible that Hoke was spending some of his countable hours in other ways? That seems highly improbable, but so do Michigan's results the past couple years.
Harbaugh bein' Harbaugh
When practice was over Harbaugh brought the team around him and awarded the day to the defense. As a reward he told them they had to run while the offense watched because “here, the winners are the ones that earn the opportunity to get better.”
Quarterback Battle Royale
Whether it's the WWE kind or the Quentin-Tarantino-porn that is way better than the Hunger Games, what Michigan has on its hands qualifies as such. Jedd Fisch was carefully neutral during his press conference yesterday, as coaches are. He asserted that everyone was even and getting even reps, as coaches do.
But allow your author to read into things some. Fisch on Malzone:
"He's got a lot going on. But he's handled it unbelievably well. He's unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him. To be consistent and play the game. If a play doesn't go right, he's right back in there for the next one. A short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback."
Wilton is a very large man, he's a big guy (at 6-foot-6). He can see everything. He's a pretty good athlete and he throws the ball well. He doesn't seem to have had a ton of experience.
"Shane has a very strong arm, as everybody knows, he spins it well and he just has to understand that, really, that's not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm, then you have a really strong arm. That's what you have. Now, it's a matter of 'what can you do with it?' How do you utilize it? His skill set and his arm strength are tremendous and he's very comfortable. It's fun to watch him in the huddle, he has a really good command of what we're asking him to do."
The tweets that captured small sections of the fuller quotes came off more negative towards Morris, highlighting "unbelievable" for Malzone and "throw it at the person" for Morris. It was more neutral than that. Via Maize and Blue News:
Even so, the overall vibe from that presser seemed to confirm reports floating around at Scout, Rivals, and in my inbox: there's considerable debate about who looks better between Malzone and Speight… and there ends the debate. Scout's observers tend to like Malzone. Rivals's like Speight. Malzone is reportedly adjusting to the size of the players in front of him; Speight doesn't have that issue and is a year ahead of Malzone in terms of college prep.
Early days obviously, but it feels like the QB race is two horses with Morris lagging behind. Gentry and maybe Rudock are yet to enter.
Tailback Battle Royale
See above in re: term. Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of options here and is doing a lot of correcting in drills. Will be interesting to see if there's a performance differential there. The latest practice video from the department features Wheatley heavily if you'd like to hear him talk some.
Most of these guys look like they've looked. Johnson's out; Smith may be a hair faster; it's tough to tell if Green's vision problems are any better in this context. (Most people observing practice do so from the sideline, where holes are not always visible.)
There is the new guy, of course. Ty Isaac is "huge" and "could be a linebacker." He injured a finger somewhat badly in one practice but shrugged it off to continue with drills. This undoubtedly earned him some Harbaugh toughness brownie points. (He did sit out some on subsequent days.)
Chase Winovich is at least practicing there…
Rt when you see it pic.twitter.com/1FfBEqacoI
— Chase Winovich (@CCWino58) March 11, 2015
…and while Harbaugh seemed pretty dismissive about supposed position moves earlier this spring, they are looking at him there. When I fretted that this didn't make a lot of sense given the seeming surplus at H-back, Ace reminded me that Harbaugh switched guys around like mad at Stanford. Doug Baldwin played both ways; Owen Marecic played both ways. Harbaugh loves to experiment, and when he finds a Football Player that guy tends to Play A Lot Of Football. Possibly the same dynamic here.
Because man does Michigan need something above and beyond Butt/Bunting/Hill/Shallman/Houma? And Pallante? And apparently Henry Poggi?
Is it possible Winovich is getting a legit look at tailback? I doubt it but it's not like Michigan's not looking for options there.
It seems clear that Michigan has a relatively set front seven with a lot of depth at three-tech and some at linebacker. So they're taking the opportunity to test out anyone who may be an effective manballer.
FWIW, Ian Bunting looks promising but could still use some more weight on his frame if he's going to be a true dual-threat at the TE spot. When asked to catch the ball he looks "terrific," with the kind of wingspan that will remind you of Funchess "plus a couple inches." Hands are reputed to be excellent. Sam cited him as a potential breakout player.
Sione Houma has been held out with an injury, FWIW.
Receiver Battle… somewhat Royale
Drake Harris exists! He is full go in practice after like two straight years of hamstring doom. Reports alternate between impressive play and extreme skinniness. I believe both; this year will likely be a learning/glaring at hamstring owlishly/getting bigger campaign for him. 247:
There's no doubt about one thing: Harris is going to have to gain some weight in the next six months if he wants to see the field this season. However, the early impressions of him are twofold. One, he's finally 100% healthy and is a full-go at wide receiver. Two, he's been very impressive off the edge and has been a favorite target for a couple of the quarterbacks in early drills.
Harris was kind of a big deal before his leg acted up on him, remember. He was a top-50 prospect who Michigan had to fend off Alabama for after a 2,000 yard junior season.
Other reports are so scattered it's tough to draw conclusions from them. There are a lot of receivers, there are a lot of reps, an observer can easily sink into confirmation bias. At various time's I've heard good things about Ways, Chesson, Norfleet, and Bunting. Darboh's been absent so far and Canteen may still be too small to get off jams; I wouldn't read a whole lot into the former since Darboh is a known quantity.
OL Somewhat Settled(?) Royale
There's significant rotation along the offensive line, as you might expect. Other than the returning starters the biggest threats for playing time are Patrick Kugler, David Dawson, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Miller and Braden are the returning starters under the most threat.
It is impossible to tell anything about these guys yet, as this is the point in the year when they're at the greatest disadvantage. Having eight real options is excellent, at least.
Chris Fox is still injured. You may remember that he came in after suffering a severe knee injury in his senior year of high school, ballooned up into the 350 range, and hasn't been talked about much subsequently. At least early this spring he was still on crutches. We are rapidly approaching the point where a medical scholarship is the most likely outcome.
News bullets and important items:
Ondre Pipkins should be back this week. Sounds like he was injured last week.
The coaches want the running game to be filtered through the running backs because they don’t want the quarterback to get hurt
Maurice Ways and Chase Winovich are two younger guys who have garnered attention from the coaches
Mo Hurst was a running back in high school and has good vision; hence his use in goal line situations
Jabrill Peppers is not out for the season
“Thanks for coming out today. Yesterday, again, the consistency of having good practices continued. They went out and it was spirited. It was tough. Obviously they want to win. They want to play better. They want to compete better, and I think they’ve done that throughout so that’s been focusing on improving at each position and what we can do to play better, coach better, the whole deal. You know Penn State has a very good defense. Very salty, very good defensive front. I think Hackenberg is as talented as a quarterback as you’re going to find. I remember talking to Bill O’Brien about him and I know what Bill thinks of him as a quarterback and I can tell you we share those sentiments. We’re excited to get back out on Saturday. I think that’s the great part about football; you get another opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it. It’ll be a historic night, obviously, with the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium. The atmosphere the night games have created the last two years have been something that has been very exciting for our players, so we’re excited about that.”
Coach, Ondre Pipkins didn’t travel with you. Where is he in the mix on the defensive side?
“He’ll be back with us this week.”
So you’re not talking about injuries, but-
With the running backs, do you move [Ross] Douglas back there or do you do anything else to get more depth, because you were kind of thin there anyway?
“You know, Ross is playing a little bit of the slot. He’s helping us there a little bit. Haven’t moved him full-time back. The good thing is he’s had some snaps there but right now we feel pretty confident with DeVeon and Justice and Drake Johnson. In some personnel and situation things Joe Kerridge being back there is a possibility.”
Is Wyatt Shallman playing there?
“Well, he- a little bit, yeah. He does some things for us.”
We’ve talked about this all the years with Denard and now Devin but the balance between letting them run, which was obviously successful the other day, and then now the injury factor; how do you balance that?
“Well, I think with two good athletes like that who from an instinctive point of view maybe run the ball a little bit more than you want depending on what they see down the field in those passing situations, but I think there is a balance. I think we would like to keep creating the runs from the tailback position as much as possible so that we don’t have to put him in harm’s way.”
How much of it is Devin initiating it and how much of it is directed from Doug [Nussmeier]?
“Well, I think he initiates some of it. He has a feel for it, and instinct for it but obviously there were some designed runs that were in there.”
[After THE JUMP: Get out your Ouija board, because we’re (barely) talking injuries]