FWIW. Michigan doesn't seem inclined to get re-involved.
Lloyd Carr approves of this quote in the Michigan locker room. Via Rittenberg
A long time ago there was a thing called foot-ball that was so important we'd spend a month or two talking about foot-ball team practice that happened months before the foot-ball team played a foot-ball game. This was called "spring" no matter what happened to be happening out your windows.
I have just been informed by other parts of my brain that the "spring game" will be held tomorrow, and will still be called that despite a forecast of 43 degrees and a 22 mile per hour wind. This will be the last opportunity to get data on foot-ball until fall, whereupon excitement will descend upon the land again.
Here's everything I threw in a post because I was too busy with the Final Four run to do them any justice, and just in time.
The Peel Down The Fingers Of Michigan To Create An Obscene Gesture Offense
It's a working title. Shut up.
Denard Robinson has graduated. This is a terrible event for a lot of people, but probably not Al Borges. Borges can now stop jamming his brain into a spread coach's and do what he wants to do without everyone getting mad at him (until it doesn't work once). Lewan:
"I feel like (offensive coordinator Al) Borges is much more comfortable running this kind of offense than he’s been running for the last however many years."
What this will look like is still unknown even after Devin Gardner's five-game run as the starter, because…
- Michigan had spent most of the last two years focusing on Denard's unique talents and deficiencies
- They still had those talents for three of those five games and ended up running an even weirder hybrid offense than the weird hybrid created by matching Denard and Borges
- The NFL just started running this stuff so now it's cool with NFL bros.
Earlier in spring, Borges referenced the innovative stuff they were doing at places like San Francisco and Seattle—yes in fact just like that annoying NFL fan you know who dismisses the read option as gimmickry.
“You have to look at some of the stuff that [the NFL is] doing. Particularly because it’s pro football and running quarterbacks by design has not been a really popular thing to do in pro football over the years."
The upshot of this is scattered bouts of read option, a lot of it on the playside (ie: inverted veer), and a pistol package that could be anything from a quickly-discarded experiment to essentially the base offense depending on how well it works. There will also be fullbacks. : /
Andy Staples visited Ann Arbor and came back with an excellent article on the transition process that started immediately after last year's Nebraska game. It is unfortunately light on details.
We do know that Al Borges knows chick dig the long ball, and that Gardner is quite adept at unleashing the dragon.
"I kind of know sometimes what they're doin' before they do it," Gardner said of the defense. "I don't think (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison's very happy about that."
Safety Thomas Gordon affirmed Gardner's take, saying the quarterback has had his way with Michigan's secondary at times -- a secondary that ranked fifth against the pass last year.
"Devin, he'll let that thing fly," Gordon said. "With him back there, he can throw it, he can roll out. He can do everything. You never know with Devin, so you always have to be on your P's and Q's.
"He can pick you apart. He's been testing us so far this spring, and (secondary coach Curt) Mallory has been on the DBs' heads."
It's going to be a Tyler Bray kind of thing out there.
Interior Line: Mustachioed. Nicknamed. Mean?
talking with Jack Miller
Michigan returns both tackles, who will be great. They replace the three other guys on the line. Since that portion of the line was so bad a year ago—try to gain a yard, anyone not named Denard Robinson, moohaha—no one's freaked out about this. But it would be nice if the new guys were better.
If facial hair is any help, by God they will be.
They're calling themselves "The Muzzy Maulers". And they're building chemistry one mustache at a time.
"What are we calling this?," Miller shouted to fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, who like an older brother was watching his young center take on his first media pack of the spring. "The 'Muzzy Maulers'. That's kind of the new nickname. There's a mustache thing going on and Taylor's already taking advantage of it. I haven't yet because I have a boy mustache."
Jack Miller is picking up both the hirsuteness baton and the quote machine baton, which bodes well. In that article he notes that a bunch of the offensive linemen have gone so far as to live together in an effort to operate as one mind, describes Kyle Kalis as "a man" for his mustache-growing ability, and contains multitudes in an answer to the question "what did you learn from David Molk?"
"What did I learn from David Molk?," Miller laughs at the question.
Let me fix that for you, Mr. Miller.
What did I learn from David Molk that I can repeat to a reporter without causing Brady Hoke to explode?
And then there's… oh hell just read the whole article, I can't blockquote everything interesting that Miller says. The upshot is that Miller is larger and 70% as mean as David Molk on a scale ranging from Molk to Mealer. It sounds like he has a strong grip on the job, which is what I was hoping for with just walk-ons and incoming freshman Patrick Kugler backing him up:
Talked with offensive line coach Darrell Funk this morning about his group, which has to replace three starters in the middle. He mentioned that Jack Miller has been the most consistent interior lineman so far this spring, but he's being pushed by Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow. He said redshirt freshmen Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden have come a long way. And it sounds like it's a little easier to have youth inside than at tackle.
The buzz has been within in the sunnily positive range:
"This is by far the best spring start (they've had) since I've been here," fourth-year quarterback Devin Gardner said.
As of two weeks ago, Joey Burzynski was still running with the ones—that'll be something to watch for at the Spring Game. No offense to Burzynski, but I think everyone's hoping Kyle Kalis locks onto the right guard job with the jaws of death.
Meanwhile, the other guard spot is Ben Braden's to lose.
It’s hard to get a read on the young interior linemen right now, but one name that’s constantly floated by coaches and players is Ben Braden.
"He's going to be a hell of a guy to get around when he's coming downhill at you," Lewan said.
Lewan said he's excited about Michigan's offensive line looking more like the lines of old.
"The tradition of mauling people up and down the field is really cool, and it's fun to see people give up on the other side of the ball, not us," Lewan said. "Everybody's got a nasty streak. These guys really get it."
While I don't think anyone's making an explicit comparison to last year's collection of nice guys who had trouble consistently identifying the middle linebacker, my mind immediately goes there. "It's fun to see people give up on the other side of the ball, not us" is kind of a brutal shot at last year's interior line, right? Am I crazy?
In any case, the meanness here and the options at the guard spots should provide Michigan more consistent production, and by that I mean "any production."
Catchists Of Size
Michigan's got a couple of good receivers in Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon; they'll need a couple more to fill out Gardner's targeting array. With a zero-receiver class in Hoke's first year and a collection of sleepers in year three, the onus falls heavily on second-year guys Amarah Darboh (a sophomore) and Jehu Chesson (a redshirt freshman). Both have come in for considerable buzz. Darboh is in the Avant mold; Chesson in the Edwards mold.
"Jehu, in one-on-ones, he’s just flying by people with his speed. Doing all these amazing things. You can tell he’s learning." -- Receiver Jeremy Gallon
Chesson also made a ridiculous diving catch in the scrimmage video (at about 2 minutes):
Chesson looks like the football team's Caris LeVert—earlier in that video he gets a ball he should catch raked out by a defensive back. He's probably not going to be too good at getting off jams or dealing with bump and run yet, but that's what stacked formations are for.
Meanwhile, the siziest catchist, Devin Funchess, is calling himself a "pretty boy." In a negative way, not like he's a parrot:
"I was like a pretty boy that didn't want to get hit," he humbly admitted on Thursday. "Now I know that I have to change many aspects of my game, change my mindset. Now I just go in there and stick my head in as much as possible.
"I believe I wasn't ready for the Big Ten because it was a tougher game."
While everyone else was staring at the box score, circling his lack of receptions and wondering why he wasn't being targeted more, Funchess and the coaching staff were more concerned about his blocking.
"I have to help the team win," Funchess said of his offseason reprograming. "I learned that because at the end of last year I missed some blocks, some key blocks. And it hurt the team."
That is accurate. I am a bit concerned that he hasn't added any weight—seems like Michigan would like him at 250 if he is going to be a Y TE. It doesn't matter how good of a blocker you are at 230 pounds, you are just an oversized wide receiver.
"I hang out with all of them, but I can't hang out with the lineman too much because I can't grow facial hair," Funchess said. "I'm just a young lad; can't really grow it."
Unleash The… Dangit James Ross You Don't Fit With "Unleash The"
This site has been hyping up James Ross since midway through last year when every time I'd look at tape, Ross would be getting to the right spot at the right time. Sometimes he had issues despite that, as in the Iowa game when Mark Weisman ran over a perfectly-positioned Ross repeatedly.
a history of nonviolence
If Ross can just go from the above to wrecking people, he'll be all-conference. At least. What's that, Devin Gardner? You've decided to put some practice clips of Ross wrecking people on the internet?
I'll be peering at him for hints of the above tomorrow—and this site's breakout player prediction is no secret. Michigan is moving Desmond Morgan to MLB for a reason. Ross has to start.
Freak Clark To The Rescue
Lo and it came to pass that there was a man who had not really done much so far in his career who entered spring practice a different man and was called exciting things.
Both [starting tackles], asked open-endedly which defensive lineman provides the most difficult matchup in practice, offered the same answer: Frank Clark.
"He’s just so quick. He’s got such a quick step, it's hard to handle him. He's a freak," said Schofield, who wasn't the only Michigan player to invoke the F-word.
Added senior defensive lineman Jibreel Black: "Ever since Frank came in here, he's been a freak athlete. It's just a matter of putting it all together."
And this always worked out and never did not work out. Amen.
Jake Ryan's ACL tear makes finding some more pass rush—already priority one for a defense that was pretty good in all other aspects—absolutely critical. Fortunately, hulked-up WDE Frank Clark is far and away your Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award winner. Por ejemplo:
What they're saying: "I feel like he’s more focused, just to become our No. 1 pass rusher. I feel like he’s definitely proven he can do that. I think he’s realizing he’s older now, and wants to step up, especially now with Brennen moving. He’s among the quickest defensive linemen I’ve ever faced, and he’s got a nice little bull-rush too. He can mix it up on you." -- Right tackle Michael Schofield
I've heard that Lewan and Clark have a nice little practice rivalry going. To have one of those means you're evenly matched, or at least close. Lewan is hyping and hyping:
"I think, no doubt in my mind, he's an All-Big Ten player -- if not more," Lewan said Tuesday of the weak-side defensive end. …
Clark claims he's gotten the best of Lewan in practice.
"Perception is reality," Lewan countered. "If he wants to perceive it that way, then yeah."
He's seen his share of pass rushers, from Tom Gholston to Jadeveon Clowney. Michigan would like Clark to end up closer to the Clowney end of things, though obviously not particularly close because holy pants that guy.
Grady Brooks didn't do anything at all after his spring hype; guys like Breaston did. Let's go Breaston.
In other pass-rush hope, early-enrollee Taco Charlton came in at 6'6", 265 and is getting buzz of his own. Gardner:
He's huge to begin with. He comes in big enough to play. He's fitting in. He doesn't look like a freshman. He knows what he's doing out there.
Mario Ojemudia is in there too, though he's by far the smallest of the available WDEs and may be restricted to nickel rush duties.
Wherefore Art Binkie
Jordan Kovacs is gone. While Marvin Robinson still seems to be taking most of the first-team snaps, if you made me guess I'd say Jarrod Wilson would push past him to start. Wilson enrolled early and was the third safety a year ago. He knows what was the most important part of the tao of Kovacs:
Even with all the extra work he puts in, Wilson might consider himself first and foremost a student of Kovacs.
The former captain has been in and out of Ann Arbor this winter, dropping by Schembechler Hall periodically for workouts, and though Wilson really hasn’t had the opportunity to pick Kovacs’s brain, the year he spent observing Kovacs while on reserve has given him insight into the kind of safety he’s striving to be.
“His instincts and what to expect even before the play has even started,” Wilson said of what he’s picked up by watching Kovacs. “He could come out and tell you what the offense was going to run due to line splits, wide-receiver splits, quarterback and everything. I pretty much learned pre-snap reads from him.”
That reminds me to put Kovacs on my future Michigan coach wish-list. Oh hell yes.
This article was based off a dumping-ground where I put ever article that flipped past me during Michigan's tourney run, and as I finish it I notice that certain things are absent. Quick take time.
Running back. A murky mess with no clear leader. Drake Johnson has come in for some coach hype; I've heard Justice Hayes is looking good; everyone's waiting for Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith to rumble into camp in fall. Biggest thing might be seeing whether Hayes or Norfleet can lock down the third down back role.
Tight ends. Can AJ Williams block now? Is he a downfield threat after the weight loss? I don't know.
Defensive line. Are they really going to roll with 276-pound Jibreel Black as the starting three-tech? How's Pipkins doing? Who will start at SDE?
Linebacker. Cam Gordon, please be good.
Cornerback. Countess is still limited so some uncertainty is still there even though the top three spots appear to be taken by quality players.
Hoke said you talked to Shane Morris after Russell Bellomy’s injury. How does the injury impact Shane, and how does this impact how you coach him?
“Really not as much as you might think. He was going to come in and compete anyway. There’s one less slot there to go through, so that’s really all it impacted. He knows there’s one less body. Doesn’t affect him as much as you might think.”
Does Shane come around a lot?
“Oh yeah. All the time. He’s been around for a couple years, actually. He committed early, so he knows everybody on the team and they all know him. He’ll hit the ground running when he gets here.”
What do you like about what you see so far?
“Other than Angelique and Chantel, not much.”
“No, uh … I think we have some good enthusiastic practices and really good hitting, which has been fun. Competition is hot and heavy. Guys working hard. It’s been a fun first six days. Spring football is always kind of fun for the coaches because it’s all about teaching a system and evaluating the players without the pressure of playing a game. It’s kind of nice.”
just win the job thx / just get touches thx
Michigan kicks off spring practice in ten days, whereupon they will hit each other and do things that are football related and not much of import will go down but we will suck it up with the world's largest straw anyway because that's just how we do. This is a welcome change from Rodriguez-era spring practices, where worlds rose and fell because of the quarterback situation. Michigan has that locked down thanks to Denard's elbow injury and Devin Gardner's play.
Still, there are things to look for in the insider buzz and coach-talkin' that we will start receiving soon. (Other schools are out there covering it in person, grumble.) Here are the things I hope we start hearing soon:
Dennis Norfleet is back on offense. Check($). Norfleet's coach told Mike Spath that Norfleet was moving back to a return/slot/change of pace role a couple weeks ago, which makes me go eeee. Speculation that Norfleet's move was related to JT Floyd's suspension appears to have been accurate:
"In the bowl, it was basically a situation where he wanted the chance to earn more playing time, the numbers were down, and they let him compete there, but it was never supposed to be a permanent move."
Next on the checklist is seeing Norfleet get some touches at a place other than kick return.
Devin Gardner has two years to play. Also check. High five your future self.
There are clear leaders for each of the interior line spots. Last year's late Barnum/Mealer flip presaged trouble, and trouble was received. Ideally Michigan will come out of spring practice with an offensive line two-deep written in ink—chiseled in stone is unfortunately out of the question.
In practice this means:
- Kyle Kalis locks down a guard spot.
- There are no whispers about serious competition for Jack Miller since Kugler is not on campus yet.
- Bars, Bosch, Braden, or Bryant becomes the clear leader at the other guard spot.
If the last one doesn't come to fruition that's okay, as Michigan will probably be able to figure out one guard spot in fall camp without much trouble. If either of the first two is false that's not so good. If it's Kalis, that's a five-star guy falling off a stardom track. Meanwhile Miller's current competition at center is…
well, a "tight-lipped" Darrell Funk didn't mention any position changes other than the fact that Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow will receive looks at center this spring. If Michigan's going to start a walk-on, center is the place that I'm most comfortable having that happen, especially since they've all got a decent amount of experience there…
"That'll be a really interesting battle," Funk said. "I would prefer not to have another center battle for the second consecutive year, but it is what it is and we've got some candidates. They've all repped it for a year and a half, or two years, and we'll see who the best guy is."
…but I'm with Funk. Someone please lock that job down ASAP.
If it's a walk-on that might be okay. Burzynski was actually ahead of Miller as a sixth lineman on the goal line last year; Glasgow has the size (listed at 6'6", 305), has received some hype and is one of the better twitter follows on the team*. If either wins the job the least we can expect is that the line calls are consistently right, right?
You know you're broke when you ask Kyle Kalis for money
— Graham Glasgow (@gglasgow61) March 1, 2013
needs moar this (Upchurch)
There's someone to throw to. I'd better damn well hear that after last year's Devin Funchess fade—little of it his fault since the guy caught everything they threw at him—that Devin Gardner is throwing to him on every play, often twice. I desire a low rumble of Breaston-level hype relating to Devin Funchess. Oh and I would also like him to be a credible blocker.
On the outside, it's time for Amarah Darboh or Jehu Chesson or hopefully both to start getting buzz as a possession magnet or deep ball specialist. Michigan is okay with Jeremy Gallon (suddenly rampant with Gardner at the helm) and Drew Dileo at two spots; they'd dearly like to acquire a large receiver for various purposes.
New-ish defensive lineman X is making The Leap. Prime candidates are Ondre Pipkins and either Frank Clark or Mario Ojemudia. Someone on that line should be getting way better right now, and while Pipkins isn't going to start this year Michigan is going to count on him heavily the next three years. He needs to be a guy who does not get knocked over by running backs one-on-one.
Then you've got a cavalcade of redshirt freshmen. Chris Wormley's ACL injury was 6 or 7 months ago so we probably won't get to hear much about him; it would be nice if Willie Henry, Matt Godin, or Tom Strobel started generating some buzz.
James Ross is beast. I'm not including either rising sophomore linebacker in the above discussion since we have already seen them in action plenty and they are marked for stardom. I still think Desmond Morgan is going to hold a job, leaving one of the two a frequent substitute rather than a starter. The preferred way for this to work out is for James Ross to put on 20 pounds and leave no doubt about who is Michigan's weakside linebacker for the next three years.
It's like nothing ever happened to Blake Countess. Obvious.
The loss of Jordan Kovacs, while inevitably painful, will be mitigated. Also obvious. The battle here is between Dymonte Thomas, who enrolled early, Jarrod Wilson, and little-used veterans Marvin Robinson and Josh Furman. Jeremy Clark may figure in as well.
I'm not sure how I want that to work out just yet but like center, it's for the best if someone grabs the job and sits on it. At least here seem to be a number of reasonable options.
Starting Beard is taken care of. Elliott Mealer is gone. Time to step it up, people. This town needs Vikings.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
goodnight sweet prince
- QB Denard Robinson. Michigan's career leader for yards per carry (6.3, tied with Jon Vaughn, would best it if sacks were accounted for properly). All-time national record-holder for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Three-year starter. Only player who could run for more than two inches per carry behind last year's offensive line. Kind of a big deal. Did not start last five games at QB, which mitigates blow significantly since Gardner was a revelation.
- LT Taylor Lewan [assumed]. Future first-round pick was near flawless in pass pro his last two years. Penalties returned after refinement as a sophomore; got beat painfully against OSU, but nearly shut out Clowney in the bowl game.
- WR Roy Roundtree. Never really recovered his prominence after rampant 2010. Did bounce up to 31 catches as a senior at a nice YPC clip. Had clearly become the #2 option by the end of the year.
- OG Patrick Omameh. Four year starter was probably Michigan's best interior OL. Lacked desired power for manball run game. Pass protection was solid. Probably replaceable. Probably not getting drafted.
- TE Mike Kwiatkowski. Don't-call-him-a-walk-on tight end was Michigan's most effective blocker at the spot; not targeted much in the pass game.
- OC Elliott Mealer. Last minute switch to center didn't smooth over issues; seemed to mess up a bunch of line calls starting in the Nebraska game; graded out as an extensive downgrade from Molk.
- OG Ricky Barnum. Not very good. Got run over a lot.
RB Vincent Smith. Throwback screen merchant and pass-protector extraordinaire was never a great runner but leaves a hole at third down back. Admirably managed to not dissolve into component atoms after Clowney hit.
- FB Stephen Hopkins. Seemed to lose his job to Joe Kerridge and left the team after the OSU game.
- TE Brandon Moore. Barely played.
we gon' throw
- QB Devin Gardner. Blew in from wide receiver after Nebraska debacle to start final five games of the season, completing nearly 60% of his passes for 9.7 yards a pop with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. Added a couple hundred yards on the ground, sacks excluded. Those were mostly on scrambles. Fluctuating accuracy a concern.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Gardner's favorite target was on pace for 80 catches and 1300 yards once Denard hurt his elbow. Diminutive but capable of leaping past defensive backs; quick enough to get open against almost anyone.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Gruesome break of both bones in his leg should actually be healed by fall. If available, Michigan needs the 2011 version of him badly.
- LT (presumably) Michael Schofield. Early struggles as he transitioned back to tackle did not last; established himself a good pass protector and adequate run blocker. With freshmen populating the depth chart everywhere on the OL, will likely move over to Gardner's blindside, allowing a burlier kid to play RT.
- TE Devin Funchess. After breakout Air Force game use steadily declined; he finished with only 15 catches for 234 yards. Did lead the team in receiving TDs with five. Passing game priority one needs to be getting the Devins on the same page.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome should have been targeted more. Catches quickly, gets upfield, small target but extremely reliable.
- TE AJ Williams. High school tackle was supposed to be Michigan's blocking TE but displayed horrendous technique and probably would have redshirted if Michigan had any options. Needs a big step forward with Kwiatkowski out the door.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Thumping fullback of the walk-on variety will be frequently used as Michigan transitions back to pro-style.
- RB Thomas Rawls. Flashed some tackle-breaking power in garbage time against Purdue and Illinois; proceeded to average under two yards a carry once forced into the lineup late in the year. Passed by Justice Hayes in bowl game and will likely fall behind freshmen when they arrive on campus.
- WR Jeremy Jackson. Lumbering possession receiver can't get separation from DBs.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
The offensive line. With Lewan taking his twosie to the next level, Michigan is left with Michael Schofield and a bunch of guys who haven't seen the field. Two fellows seem like locks to start:
- Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center. It's possible Blake Bars moves over to challenge, and vaguely possible that Patrick Kugler—son of former Steelers OL coach and new UTEP head coach Sean—enters ready to play on day one. Miller has to be considered the heavy favorite. The coaches love his nasty, Molk-like disposition; they may not love his Molk-like size. He does have the asset of being a center from the get go, unlike the candidates in 2012.
- Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at guard. I bet if Michigan had to do it over they would have put Kalis in the mix to start from day one. Instead they preserved a year of eligibility for him, which will benefit them down the road. If Kalis, a proverbially nasty road grader, doesn't win a job with ease, it's time to start worrying about living up to the hype.
A third is not quite a lock but has a healthy lead in my head:
- Redshirt freshman Ben Braden at right tackle. Braden is a mountain of a man better suited to crubberate people off the ball than classmate Erik Magnuson, who's more of a left tackle type. Scuttlebutt reaching my ears is that the coaches are extremely high on him. Magnuson does have a shot.
The fourth is up in the air between these folk:
- Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, who remains a 320, 330-pound mauler. He missed the season with a leg fracture. Availability in spring will be key.
- Redshirt freshman Blake Bars, who's a lot smaller than Bryant and will probably have to wait a bit longer for a shot at the starting job. He was a 3/4 star borderline kid.
- True freshman Kyle Bosch, this year's edition of Kalis. While he's not quite as hyped, he's enrolling early and should find himself on the two-deep immediately. He could push through.
- Redshirt junior Joey Burzynski. I'd be surprised if a 6'1" kid can move past the aforementioned trio and into the starting lineup. That said, he's got the most on-field experience in this grouping.
Breaking in four new OL, three of them likely to be freshmen, is scary. On the other hand, it's not like they can be worse at run blocking.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball. Maybe this is Toussaint. It seems more likely it's either DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green, particularly the latter guy if he does indeed end up in Ann Arbor like it seems the world expects him to. Running backs don't need a lot of seasoning, and Green is college-sized and then some.
Also here's my candle for Dennis Norfleet, third down back kthx. Get some Muck in you, kid, and there's a job waiting.
African refugee wide receivers. Amarah Darboh pointlessly burned a redshirt; Jehu Chesson kept his. With no immediate help from this WR class likely, last year's folk will have to break in. I was pretty high on both those dudes, with Chesson a co-MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year with Braden. They both provide relatively big targets, and Chesson might have deep speed.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Gallon. As mentioned above, that connection was red-hot over the last five games of the season, and not just against tomato cans. Gallon's best game of the year was the nine-catch, 145-yard, two-TD outing against a top-shelf SEC defense in the bowl game. Those guys are in tune.
Just running one offense, thanks. No longer will Michigan be at war with itself about what it wants to do. A section a bit later in this post hopes they'll run the QB some; this should not detract from the fact that Michigan moves from a system Borges never quite got the hang of to his bread and butter. Gallon's performance once Michigan had a quarterback who could stand in the pocket and deliver entices.
Presumably large improvement from the tight ends. Devin Funchess and AJ Williams got thrown into the fire a year too early; now they can add 20 pounds each and learn how to block and add a couple new guys in the hopes of Stanfordizing this offense.
Funchess seemed like a matchup issue last year, but if you were a defensive coordinator considering him a wide receiver, how wrong would you have been? Not very. Getting him to a point where he is a credible blocker is what'll get him open on seams and whatnot.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Offensive line depth x2. This isn't quite as bad as it was last year, when there were essentially no backups—the sixth OL was a walk-on. It is still not good. If you make the reasonable assumptions that the freshman class redshirts and Bryant wins the other guard job, Michigan has Burzynski, Bars, and Magnuson available. Freshmen and that walk-on. Suboptimal.
But hey at least next year this problem goes away: Schofield's gone; everyone else returns.
Offensive line starters, probably. Four new ones; asking a lot for all of them to be good from day one.
WR depth? I'm not entirely sure this is a huge problem with Gallon stepping up and Dileo presumably establishing himself an excellent slot option. But they need some other guys; the incoming class provides little immediate help, so then it's down to Darboh and Chesson. Either or both could break out—Michigan needs one to.
QB depth. Bellomy or a true freshman.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? The running backs didn't help sure but when you return a thousand-yard rusher and his YPC average dips almost two yards a carry, the finger points squarely at the blocking. Lewan will be missed. The other guys are replaceable.
But replacing them is not a great thing. Michigan needs an upgrade.
How accurate is Devin really, and how much progress can he make in one offseason as the man? The overall numbers are good; his last two games left a bit to be desired. Hopefully he can refine down those misses by 20-30%, at which point Michigan is in the proverbial business.
How hard are we jamming the pro-style pedal down? Petrified at the prospect of having Gardner go down when it seemed like the alternative was Jack Kennedy, Michigan all but dumped quarterback runs from its playbook once Gardner entered the game. Was that circumstance or preference? And if it was the former, how comfortable will Michigan be incorporating Gardner's legs as an intentional part of the gameplan if the alternative is Shane Morris?
We won't know that until fall. I'm hoping Michigan keeps the inverted veer around, because that's a pretty good play.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? Freshmen will get opportunities, yes. Toussaint may be back. The youngsters will be a bit older, and at least Hayes and Norfleet came with some scatback hype—though I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Hayes move to slot receiver since there's no one on the roster who won't be a senior next year. Only the seeming likelihood that Michigan acquires Derrick Green prevents this from going in the Rod Stewart 2013 category.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Improvement as long as Gardner stays on the field. This edition of Michigan limped to middling numbers everywhere. Next year's offense figures to have a better fit with the offensive coordinator, a better offensive line if only because of reversion to the mean and having non-walk-on options outside of the starters, and at least equivalent playmakers at the skill positions with an outside shot at much better if the running back situation gets an injection of talent.
So then, how are you feeling about Denard Robinson's legs versus Devin Gardner's arm+legs? I'm thinking that's a push once turnovers are accounted for and we bake in an offseason of Gardner improvement. Guy was the #1 dual threat QB of his class, after all, and displayed some excellent potential on the ground in his tenure as a starter. And in a Borges offense, there's no comparison in the passing game*.
A lot rides on Jack Miller and the tackles; I figure the guards will be an upgrade. I'd guess we see an improvement—not that it'll take much to get that with Alabama sliding off the schedule and hopefully not having a half against Nebraska where the offense goes to die. Gardner bails Michigan out from some tough times.
*[Let's say we had that argument about the spread 'n' shred and not have it, okay?]
Perhaps it wasn't in the full capacity we had hoped, but Denard still managed to give us some of that vintage Denard magic on Senior Day:
[For the rest of the Iowa game in gifs—yes, including more Denard—hit THE JUMP]