also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
dennis norfleet is the new bubble screen
[UPDATED 12:25p.m. Now with 100% more Ace]
The Q: Michigan graduated much of its 2013 receiver depth chart and did away with the fancy Borges stacks and routes. In this new world, after Funchess, who's going to be Gardner's favorite target this year? Who are we going to see more or less of among the receivers/tight ends?
Brian: 1. Amara Darboh. Darboh was going to start last year and the buzz there was palpable. He brings physicality against what I promise you will be the grabbiest set of Big Ten pass defenses you've ever seen—the MSU effect—and he's even got mutant muscles in his arms, which I assume will be the entirety of Ace's response. He should ease past Canteen for the starting job, at least to start, and Canteen will have a tough time catching up since he's not going to drop off the face of the earth.
2. Dennis Norfleet. This is an artifact of some assumptions about the rest of the offense. Namely, that they won't be able to run that well and the tight end situation is going to be suboptimal. With reports that Norfleet looks great in space and an offensive coordinator who's not afraid to throw to his WRs on the perimeter, Norfleet's catch volume should spike as Michigan looks to him for easy yards that get defenders out of the box.
3. Freddy Canteen. Yeah, he's probably Manningham again, but even Manningham had a bit of a slow start. It'll be close with Norfleet.
4. Jehu Chesson/Jake Butt. Your guess is as good as mine about relative frequency here. I have a hunch we're going to see tight ends stay in to block frequently this year what with the lack of NFL OTs, and Butt is going to miss at least a game or two after his ACL tear. But he's got a much clearer path to playing time than Chesson and already had more catches than Chesson did a year ago.
Everyone else gets scraps, maybe a dozen catches spread between AJ Williams, Keith Heitzman, Da'Mario Jones, and Jaron Dukes and another dozen to the tailbacks. I hope we don't see any of the true freshmen other than Canteen, because there's not much need either this year or next and all could use work.
[Jump for the rest of us twisting ourselves to not have the same responses]
It is spring, the season with all the rebirth and egg-laying rabbits and such. In this pastel, paschal period of the year, everything is positive. Your baseball team could win the World Series, your backups arrived with 20 lbs more muscle/less fat ready to decapitate enemies, and your linebackers exploding everything in the backfield says everything about your linebackers and nothing about your offensive line. So question:
I am about to devote all of my attention to Spring Football. What can I learn about this team with this exercise? Is there anything that my eyes can show me that the hype is hiding?
Ace: In previous years, I've had the opportunity to see a few spring practices (in the RichRod days, which coincided with my internship at The Wolverine) and get to know a few players both on Michigan's squad and at other levels of college football. Almost universally, the first thing I've been told about spring practices, and the spring game in particular, is to expect the defense to look well ahead of the offense—and that, if this is the case, it's a good thing. That's especially true when installing a new offense, as Michigan is this season.
|Mmmm true freshmen dominating walk-ons. [Fuller]|
If you're skeptical, think back to those Rodriguez spring games and the general excitement they brought as Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson slashed through the defense with ease. Those were fun games. Those were also bad defenses. It's a whole lot easier to install and run a base defense than to get the offense fully up to speed, even with a limited playbook; if the offense looks like they know what they're supposed to be doing better than the defense, it's a point of concern.
So, strangely, I'm hoping for an ugly spring game—if it even resembles a "game" at all, which it hasn't for years. That's not to say I hope the offensive line looks totally overmatched—quite the contrary—but with a Doug Nussmeier's system still being put in place, the defense should more than hold their own at this juncture. Since we'll be seeing a very unfinished product on offense, I think more than anything we'll learn where the defense stands as they also make a transition, albeit a smaller one, to playing more 4-3 over with a reshuffled coaching staff.
[After the jump: preparing for platitudes]
“What’s up. Did you count the bubble screens again?”
MGoRetort: You had two fakes.
“Oh those were actually laser screens.”
MGoABubbleScreenByAnyOtherName: Oh, laser screens.
“They’re different. A little different.”
Your daughter started school last week. How was that?
“It’s awesome. The teacher wants to take her home. [My daughter] is so cool, she’s great. She thinks she’s pretty cool, too. She talks a lot. She talks like four times more than my son. So she’s good at talking because she practices so much more, you know. And then I get home, she’s usually in bed, but if she’s up, she’s got so many things to tell me.”
So she takes after you.
“Yeah. A little bit. I’m going to start giving her like a word a day. ‘Condescending.’ ‘Exasperate.’ Stuff like that, you know. She’ll floor her kindergarten teacher if she throws that one in, if I can get her to say it in context. Pretty cool. What are you guys laughing about? There’s nothing wrong with that. My dad did that. My dad used to all the time give me a word a day.”
You never use those words in your press conferences.
“Oh no. Never. No. Sometimes I do. Okay.”
Did anything exasperate you Saturday?
“Uh, no, not really. Not too much. Not too much. It was -- other than not getting the ball to Fitz. We wanted to get Fitz off a little more. Obviously that didn’t work out real good, but we knew going into the game that they were going to have trouble with Denard because the speed factor in the secondary. We wanted to get our athletes out in space. He’s as athletic as anybody we have. That was an emphasis in this game, and we kind of accomplished that, so the next day what we have to do is we have to get our tailback more involved, working our tails off to devise a plan to do just that.”