From Portage Northern.
As it turns out, taking this kind of beating has a long-lasting effect. [Fuller]
We all know that a well-timed hit on a passing quarterback, whether or not it results in a sack, makes it far less likely that pass will be completed, not to mention more likely to fall into the hands of a defender. It stands to reason, as well, that the cumulative effect of multiple hits on a quarterback will eventually affect his performance even when he's not taking hits.
Devin Gardner's 2013 season stands as a testament to this hypothesis. After the MSU seven-sack breaking point, there were several occasions when it seemed like he simply didn't have the juice to make certain throws that he didn't have any trouble making before his body was demolished piece by piece.
A recent article from the excellent site Pro Football Focus helpfully quantifies the effect of such punishment on a quarterback's accuracy and interception rate, using a data sample of every NFL throw from the past six years. As a quarterback takes more hits over the course of a game, their accuracy predictably plummets—on every throw, not just the ones when they're eating a defender:
After every sack or hit the quarterback takes, their Accuracy Percentage decreases by an average of a half of a percent. While that might not seem like much, there also isn’t much difference between the best and worst quarterbacks in the league. Based on the graph, an above average quarterback after five hits or sacks performs as well as an average quarterback with no hits or sacks. Once that above average quarterback has been sacked or hit 10 times, they play as well as a below average quarterback who hasn’t been sacked or hit.
The article also shows that interception rates increase substantially as the hits pile up, and more experienced quarterbacks are much better at mitigating these effects than rookie signal-callers—something to keep in mind when considering the relative merits of Gardner and Shane Morris.
When looking at Michigan's 2013 season, there's no question Gardner was a victim of this phenomenon. There's also evidence that he's better than most at handling the heat:
|2 sacks or fewer||152||94||61.8||10.1||7.9||3.9|
The heroic Ohio State (3 sacks) performance skews the numbers, though in fairness, so did Indiana's defense on the other. Even so, Gardner performed markedly better when not under constant pressure, especially when it came to producing yards and points.
The oddball interception rates can be chalked up to the concerted effort by Gardner to make fewer risky plays as the season went along. The desperation throwaways that resulted in stuff like the Stephon Tuitt pick-six turned into sacks intelligently taken as the season wore on, to the benefit of the turnover margin and serious detriment to Gardner's health and ability to make big plays on the ground or through the air.
So here's the hopeful part. Imagine a world in which Michigan has a running game that can move the ball forwards, forcing defenses to respect the run instead of pinning their ears back and going full-bore for Gardner's chest. Imagine a coherent Michigan offense that finds a way to counter the constant opponent blitzes. Imagine a full season of an offense directed by an NFL-level talent who doesn't end half his games resembling a coal miner.
This could very well be Michigan's reality in 2014. If it is, expect Devin Gardner to do big things.
Question: Did you notice any appreciable difference in the Spring Game between the Borges offense and Nussmeier's? What are hoping to see by fall, and do you think they appeared to be heading in that direction?
I might not be very useful in this roundtable.
Brian: Well... it wasn't much different in person.
And the stuff they did show was the usual vanilla business that is designed to be as basic as possible, so I'm not sure there's a whole lot to glean. It looked a lot more compact than last year's offense, sure. All spring games look compact as the bells and whistles are stowed away for use on a two-point conversion in the bowl game after you're down one billion points.
Michigan did seem to have a dedication to the inside zone with a side of power, and the linemen seemed more focused on making sure the defensive tackle was good and beat up before trying to get to the second level. That led to a lot of runs that made it to the line of scrimmage (hooray!) and didn't get much further. And that's fine. You don't dig out of a hole as big as the one Michigan's in quickly. Michigan looks like it's going to be mostly an IZ team that mixes in power to keep opponents honest, and as long as they look like that through the nonconference season and don't start flipping people about all willy-nilly, that is the first step towards competence.
So that's what I think we'll see: a boring-ass offense that tries to keep errors to a minimum and punts a lot. People will complain about its predictability and simplicity and they'll be right. Michigan doesn't have much choice, unfortunately.
Seth: It's impossible to compare Borges's Michigan offense to anything, because Michigan's offense wasn't anything under Borges for more than a few games. The three things I was looking for were 1) personnel, 2) a concept, and 3) how well those things could complement each other.
|If you flup this up, Doug, so help me Bo…|
Personnel was heavy, which was discouraging. For one Michigan has little in the way of tight ends. I didn't see anything from A.J. Williams, who was behind Heitzman, or Khalid Hill, who was behind Houma, and that was discouraging for hope of TE production before Butt's back. Houma is a fullback who lined up at the U only to motion back to fullback.
The operating theory on the OC hire was that Nussmeier at Bama was forced to use heavier formations than he wanted, however that compromise came down to 65% of snaps with three or more receivers:
|Team||Big||2 WR||3 WR||4 WR|
|Bama (Sugar Bowl)||3%||31%||58%||7%|
Eyeballing it, the spring game was closer to Michigan in 2013. If there was a difference it was more Ace as opposed to I-form, but that's less relevant because those second TEs were usually Houma and Kerridge, i.e. the fullbacks. There's a fear shared by every Michigan fan with a functional nervous system that the run-and-shoot-yourself-in-the-face offense under Borges was, despite protestations to the contrary, a mandate from the top. If Nussmeier compromises for Hoke more than he would for Saban, well, that would be insane. If that was all just a bunch of spring practice hooey, well, why are they spending spring practice on hooey when every countable hour is precious?
|Great scott Doc, this is too heavy. [Fuller]|
On the upside, there was a concept. The running was mostly zone, with some power mixed in only because you need to pull somebody to sell play-action. The passing game was a slight departure from Borges, who used a lot of 5-step patterns last year. These were 7-step patterns with an outlet, matching what we saw from Nussmeier at Alabama. The difference here can be overstated; Borges used lots of longer routes with Denard but went to the quicker stuff in 2013 because he couldn't get protection to last longer than that.
How do I feel about that? Well it fits the receivers' abilities. There's no Gallon to turn every 7-yard cushion into an easy 5 yards, but there's Canteen and the Funchise and lots of leapy things who can reel in a desperation heave. I have serious doubts the offensive line can hold up that long, but that's why there's an outlet. On the play I drew up it was Funchess running what appeared to be an option route; with Alabama it was usually an RB.
Zone is good. It's what Funk knows, it's easier to teach to young linemen, and we've already established his charges' total inability to pull correctly. My guess is the tight ends are in there because the OTs need help, though any time you have Heitzman/Williams/Houma in there instead of Chesson that's a talent downgrade.
I think the great hope for an offense that can finish in the top half of the conference is Gardner. I think Nussmeier is building an offense that is simple for everybody but him.
Hype video. Summing up the last two years in the tourney:
Paperwork. Michigan's three NBA draft candidates have submitted their paperwork for evaluation. This is a non-event, as they were always going to see what the NBA says. Unless they come back saying something different than expectation (yes Stauskas, maybe GRIII, probably not McGary). Which they probably won't.
SCOUR THE STREETS OF TIMBUKTU. Block/charge is broken but danged if Michigan wouldn't do well with one of those extreme defensive centers whose main job is to intimidate and throw down dunks. John Beilein may agree:
Beilein tells @michiganinsider he may look for a bigger shotblocker to place on the back line due to changes in block/charge call
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) April 9, 2014
Oh really. The Penn State game will be at night, as anyone who had looked at the 2014 home schedule could have told you. Prediction: I mutter about pom-poms in the aftermath.
Oh really, but in a good way. Hockey has already named its captains for next year and I bet you can get the C and one A without even thinking a little and the other A after a brief pause.
Copp will join Jed Ortmeyer and Carl Hagelin as two-year captains since I've been aware of Michigan hockey, and if he drives Michigan back to the tournament with authority he'll end up on my personal Michigan hockey Mount Rushmore with those two gentlemen. (Shawn Hunwick is the fourth.) I don't mean for this to turn into another discussion of Mount Rushmores like twitter was inexplicably doing a month back. Just let it go. No Rushmores.
OHL draft update. It was not a dramatic year for Michigan in the OHL draft, as every one of their commitments was picked in the late flier range. With James Sanchez's commitment to the NTDP, three of their four commits will be on the U17s next year. The NTDP contract has a financial penalty for early departure, so the window OHL teams have will be very small. It's not impossible, but generally NTDP guys who defect are staring down top-ten draft picks and decided they don't have to play school or are terrified by the prospect of competing with Shawn Hunwick.
Michigan's three gentlemen are highly regarded, but not in that range. They're probably safe, except for the whole looming Berenson retirement thing. But there's nothing you can do about that.
Simple, but more complicated. Morris on the differences between Nussmeier and Borges:
"We have to know a lot more this year. We have to know what lineman do on every play, who the back blocks on every play so we know who our (hot routes) are; stuff like that. It's definitely helping us out and making us more aware of the defense."
Morris, who completed 5-of-11 passes for 73 yards on Saturday, summed up the changes as "having to study defenses more" and knowing "the ins and outs of every play."
As long as there is less stuff this can work out, and it sounds like there's less stuff. Hopefully more stuff than Morris claims, though:
What's hoped for is improvement via simplification. Under Borges, the Wolverines struggled in an intricate, extensive offense.
Nussmeier's offense is the converse.
"That's how every coach should be," Morris said. "The stuff we run, we want to be perfect. I think Vince Lombardi, when he was coaching the Packers, they ran about three plays, but they ran them perfectly. That's why they won. That's what we're trying to do this year."
I want my amount of stuff porridge to be just right. Last year was too hot, and that would be too cold. But after last year we might have to settle for dully banging face for uninspiring yardage.
/rolls eyes, makes wanking gesture. If that's bolded I must be talking about Jason Whitlock.
"I'm not a big Shane Morris guy, Devin Gardner struggles during adversity," Whitlock said. "Devin Gardner handles adversity worse than others, in my opinion. …
"I don't want to beat the kid up, but that play against Michigan State when he's one yard away from a first down and he fell down," Whitlock recalled. "When you're a competitor and the leader of the team, that doesn't happen."
…which is probably why he threw for 451 yards on a broken foot against Ohio State. We could extrapolate from one play on which he made a mental error, or we could look at a season in which he was massacred weekly and still came out until—in fact after—his body literally would not let him.
It's a miracle Whitlock's made it as far as he has in the world without ever being even on the same planet as correctness.
Okay? Jeff Goodman flings Caris LeVert on his Way Too Early First-Team All-American list($). There's not much content and Goodman claims LeVert is a "terrific defender," which he's not yet…
G Caris LeVert, 6-6, Jr., Michigan
Stats: 12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg
Nik Stauskas made the huge jump last season, and look for LeVert to do it next year. He's long, can score in a variety of ways and is also a terrific defender.
…but we have officially reached the point where people in the media point at a random Michigan player and expect him to morph into a beast because John Beilein. Michigan's actually got three candidates to make this morph—LeVert, Walton, and Irvin—who are sorta kinda making freshman to sophomore leaps. (LeVert is not but is very young for his grade.)
Yes please. The Northwestern union ruling is far from final but if things go like it looks like they're going to go—every time the NCAA runs up a judge these days the judge goes LOL NO—major changes are coming. If it does go the CAPA route, things will get interesting because public schools are going to be beholden to state law, not the NLRB. Ohio seeks to disadvantage itself:
COLUMBUS, Ohio — College athletes in Ohio would not be considered employees under state law, under changes to the state’s budget review made by a legislative committee on Monday.
Michigan, meanwhile, has what I'm pretty sure are strong grad student and lecturer unions. They are emphatically extant, at the least. It'll probably take Ohio one look at the stuff Michigan is handing their athletes to reverse course here, but never underestimate human stupidity.
Why bother with an early signing period? The entire concept of the "signing period" is uselessly anachronistic, but people keep trying to fix it by introducing early signing or late signing or whatever. Bylaw Blog's John Infante is the latest:
An early signing period should be in early December. It should be as close to the end of the regular season as possible to minimize the effect on bowl preparation. That means the Wednesday after conference championship games are played. This is one week earlier than the current initial signing date for midyear junior college transfers. The signing period would be open for one week; it would include prospects enrolling that January and the following fall.
There's no reason to have a signing day at all, but it's now a TV event so it will persist forever and ever amen. There is a way to both ease the burden on coaches and players who have come to an agreement: provide a non-binding letter of intent. Players can sign it at any time and withdraw it at any time. Once they sign it other coaches can't contact them and they can't take officials except to the school they signed with. They have to make it official on signing day.
That system would provide players a way to opt out of the recruiting process whenever they wanted without locking them in if their coach gets whacked. Importantly for its chances of passage, it reduces workload for coaches, who no longer have to babysit their commits so hard and have a more limited range of poaching options.
People are just in charge of things, part LXVII. You may remember Rutgers AD Julie Hermann from such events as "it is revealed that Rutgers, reeling from a scandal in which it was revealed that their basketball coach was a violent psychopath, hires person claimed to be violent psychopath by former players, then experiences mass football decommitment spree after football coach is claimed to be violent psychopath." And then nothing else because Rutgers.
Hermann is now back in the news, which can't be good.
“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”
Good job, good effort, Hermann.
I'd say the stink of Rutgers would harm the image of the Big Ten, but… hey, yeah we're a basketball conference now. The stink of Rutgers will harm the image of the Big Ten.
AND STAY OUT. The greatest collapse in NBA GM history is complete, as Joe Dumars will resign after creating the unlikeliest NBA champion in recent history, a team that was a bounce or two away from a second title. Then he traded Chauncey Billups for a broken-down Allen Iverson and spent the money saved on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, at which point it was over.
Eventually Dumars started making decisions seemingly to spite Pistons fans; aside from the fortune of having a franchise center slide to him in the draft there is literally no good thing Dumars has done since he broke bad with Iverson. The Pistons have been stuck in NBA purgatory, never any good but never bad enough to secure one of the top picks in the draft. This year's desperate attempt to get into the playoffs secured them the worst three point shooter in NBA history on a team with two promising young bigs. And of course, Trey Burke. Though Burke's not shooting well this year the difference made by his presence in Utah's lineup is obvious in their record. The guy Dumars picked over him picked up three consecutive trillions.
But you know what they always say: when you can draft a guy who dragged his team to a .500 SEC record you gotta do it.
Anyway, Dumars dug his own grave and I'm mad at him for… uh… being the dumbest person. But at one point he was a genius, so thanks for that.
Hoke says Michigan really didn't find its top five offensive linemen this spring. And really isn't close to finding them either.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 5, 2014
WELP. In a word, Michigan's offense was ominous. It was ominous—worse than that—in Hoke's first year, though, and that worked out okay as long as Al Borges wasn't trying to make Denard Robinson into a pocket passer. Standard disclaimer about information value of spring.
That stated, yeesh. We knew the situation at tackle was going to be iffy, especially with Magnuson out. Having Mason Cole as the first option at the most important spot on the line was beyond those expectations. Meanwhile, Michigan is prepping the only remaining guy who started every game last year (Graham Glasgow) at right tackle, which they'll say is just precautionary but speaks of some trepidation about Ben Braden. I do not want there to be trepidation about Ben Braden.
Hoke did not mince words when asked if they thought they'd found their best five:
"I don't know if we can say that, honestly," Hoke said. "I know I can't.
"So, I guess the answer is no."
Are the Wolverines even close, really, to identifying the best five?
"No," Hoke said. "Not yet."
That was apparent on the field, where runs generally got to the line of scrimmage (hooray!) and no further (mutter). Pass protection was close to nonexistent. It was what everyone expected, which was bad. They've got five months to figure it out, whereupon they probably won't figure it out. Digging out of a hole as big as Michigan dug last year is a two-year operation.
Quarterbacking. Gardner was just two of ten, but Morris was hardly better. Gardner's interception was at least at his receiver; Morris threw one directly into Lewis's chest. In the aftermath there were the usual quotes about how it's an open competition, but, yeah, when the Big Ten Network's main Morris highlight is a pass thrown behind the line of scrimmage that guy isn't displacing a quarterback who averaged 8.6 YPA last year and can run.
Neither quarterback was helped by the pass protection, which forced them to move around and let Michigan's secondary recover. Gardner's move and re-set on one throw allowed Jarrod Wilson to get over to Canteen on a corner route, for example. We have a ton of Gardner data from a year and a half as the starting quarterback. One spring outing isn't going to move the needle.
Speight didn't do much; Bellomy didn't look better than he did against Nebraska.
Hayes should be a legit option. [Fuller]
Tailbacking. On the few runs on which tailbacks had an opportunity to do something notable it was usually Justice Hayes doing the notable thing. He had a couple of quality cuts in tight areas that got him a nice chunk. Derrick Green had one bounce outside on which he seemed quicker than last year but still not particularly quick; De'Veon Smith also turned in a leg-churning run.
They're all about even, it seems. Michigan will cycle through them looking for one to break out. That's a tough ask given the line. It's platoon time. Michigan still seems to insist that anyone who does not resemble a moose must be relegated to third downs:
"Right now, if we're not in a third down situation, it's De'Veon and Derrick. And then Justice if we get into third down."
There's no reason that Hayes shouldn't be given a look as the feature back after last year's lack of production all around and his evident ability. He was no slouch as a recruit, and being able to pick through traffic is a nice skill to have. You get the impression that Hoke would ride David Underwood for years before even considering Mike Hart. Size isn't everything. Ask the Kansas State team that just eviscerated you with a 5'8" tailback and 5'11" wide receiver.
It's also time for Fred Jackson to preach the simplicity line and throw shade on Al Borges:
"Guys are more consistent now with their reads, going from point A to point B with protections," Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said last week on WTKA-AM in Ann Arbor. "By not having a ton of protections and a ton of different runs, it allows the guys to be more consistent in what they're doing."
/waves tiny flag
Of course, the main problem with the blitz pickups last year was not so much the tailback going to the wrong spot but what happened when he met the blitzer. That's on Jackson, not Borges. The thing about not doing every possible thing is great—I've heard that Michigan had 13 different protection schemes last year. 13!
MOS EISLEY FTW [Eric Upchurch]
Something about a wretched hive of scum and villainy I can't quite figure out. Freddy Canteen went from freshman to Manningham in the space of 15 practices, starting the day opposite Devin Funchess, making the one deep catch of the scrimmage session, and smoking Blake Countess over the top on another pass that Gardner threw short. Countess caught up; it was still reminiscent of 86.
Also reminiscent of 86, at least as a freshman: people screaming at Canteen about where to line up pre-snap. There was one memorable play in Manningham's freshman year where Fred Jackson was having a conniption fit on the sideline trying to get Manningham to relocate himself; Manningham did not and scored a touchdown anyway. Canteen dredged that memory up on Saturday.
Spring depth etc., but passing Jehu Chesson after a promising freshman year from him is a real thing. The tea leaves here suggest Canteen is the real deal—Michigan does not need a WR savior and has a veritable avalanche of bodies they can put on the outside. Canteen rocketed past last year's WR class and Chesson in 15 practices. It would be easy for Michigan to talk him up and throw him in the slot; instead they appear to be prepping him for a major role on the outside.
"I've been at slot and outside receiver, (I'm comfortable) at both, but I'll play probably more outside," Canteen said. "(I want to be a playmaker), to be honest. I just want to make plays."
Darboh and Chesson will also figure in; with Funchess that gives Michigan four guys with production or hype or both to their name. They're suddenly flush. With York and Dukes—who made a nice diving catch—also available, it seems like Drake Harris and Moe Ways should redshirt.
Let's think about the guy like a football player instead of a traveling circus. I can only assume the light deployment of Dennis Norfleet was for cackling-about-your-mad-plan-in-your-underground-lair reasons. It was encouraging to see them throw an actual route his way, a wheel on which Jourdan Lewis took an unnecessary pass interference flag on an overthrown ball. I support the integration of Dennis Norfleet into the base offense instead of having a completely separate Norfleet offense that always results in him getting the ball going laterally.
Hooray for efficiency. One of the most disconcerting things about Michigan's spring activity is how much standing around there is. For many, they're setting a countable hour on fire. This is apparently not how it works behind closed doors:
"Practices are really fast, we get a lot of reps," Gardner said. "This was probably the fastest practice I've ever been a part of."
There's been plenty of talk about the overall pace Nussmeier -- Michigan's first-year offensive coordinator -- works with in practice, and the overall level of tempo he chooses to play with during games.
Practices are quick. When a play ends, the next group -- according to players -- is expected to be out of the huddle and ready to snap the ball for the next rep. That concept is a simple one: It creates more reps, and for a young team, the more reps the better.
For any team, really. And that should serve Michigan well when they want to change the tempo, something Borges teams were mind-bendingly awful at. Here's a manna from heaven quote:
"I think the biggest thing, you always want to be able to control the tempo on offense -- whether that's to speed the game up or slow the game down," Nussmeier said during an interview with WTKA-AM 1050 in Ann Arbor on Thursday. "We practice at a fast tempo for a lot of reasons. One, it forces our guys to play fast and focus and always concentrate.
"And it also allows us to pick the tempo of the game up (if we need to)."
Random Mone quote I missed yesterday. This is an epic nonquote.
"I'm just having fun, being blessed," he said. "Just having fun playing the game is what I think my teammates have noticed. My enthusiasm is the main thing I bring to the field."
Our THREE weapons are having fun, being blessed, and having enthusiasm!
WE MUST MAN THE BARRICADES OR OUR FATE IS SEALED
The experience of being at the spring game was not a pleasant one. Brandon further pushed the limits of his promise not to put advertising in Michigan Stadium (a promise he's already broken in a dozen different ways) with large videoboard ads for Comcast and Allstate. There was also some dude kicking a field goal sponsored by PNC. Dude is just itching to turn Michigan's gameday experience into OSU or MSU where the scoreboard looks like a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit and each play is brought to you by Depends Adult Undergarments.
More maddening was the constant—and I mean constant—wedding DJ music, which only dropped out for brief periods in which the band was suffered to play. By the end of the day it appeared like the band just said "screw it, we're playing" and went about fifteen minutes straight. This was a merciful relief.
The music combined with the punting drill section of the day was typical Michigan at this point: we'll be shitty to you, fans, but here is this awesome guitar riff! Hunter Lochmann apparently believes that any deficit can be obscured by music. If things go poorly this season expect them to try two songs at once for the entirety of the Penn State game. One of them will be Phil Collins, because that's the soul of football.
The contrast between the NCAA tournament regional the week before and the spring game could not have been greater. The tournament is a great event the NCAA gets out of the way of. Michigan has a crappy event they try to dress up. Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course. Michigan remain focused on one thing and one thing only: strip-mining revenue from the banks of fan loyalty like it is an infinite resource.
Any things they do that are actually fan-friendly, like bringing in a slightly less rank standard of nonconference opponent, are because they have reached the limit of their ability to strip-mine. Michigan reminded fans in attendance to renew their season tickets—an announcement that never needed to be made before.
It would be one thing if the people making these decisions did anything but ape whoever their counterparts are in the ECHL. They have no concept of forming an identity to rally around. They just have spreadsheets.
wait spring football is what again
It's this practice thing that we used to think was super super important because the basketball team was a wet cat and the spring game was in late April. Now we haven't even thought about it because the basketball team is IMPORTANT and also still playing and they've moved the spring game up despite having horrible weather for seemingly the last decade solid.
So… yeah. It is a glimpse into what the football team might be like next year.
So last year's was a constant parade of quotes about how everyone was getting tackled for loss?
Well… no. It is a Pravda-like glimpse weighted by both the program's desire to look good in the absence of actual games and your hope that the next football season will be a fulfilling exercise in fandom.
Consider that hope to be disposed of in a dumpster behind a Five Guys.
All right, then. Let's enter the realm of football with a properly jaundiced eye.
Things To Watch
Will they be a single thing? "Aggression" is the guaranteed defensive watchword every time a coordinator change is made, and "simple" is the equivalent on the offensive side of the ball.
Kyle Kalis says Doug Nussmeier is gradually installing the offense. Much simpler. 'Last year, you never knew what was going to be called.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 25, 2014
How much of this is standard boilerplate and how much of it is a real problem that Nussmeier is going to solve is pretty much the question for the season. (No, it is not "who is going to start at quarterback?" You are a silly person, person who thinks that.) Lord knows that this site spent most of last year—most of the last three years—blasting Al Borges for not having anything resembling a base offense in his time. Last year's wander from stretch to power to tackle over to inside zone and all things in between was particularly egregious.
It was hardly unprecedented. Michigan never figured out how to run play action off their best play, the inverted veer, never figured out that having mobile quarterbacks run the waggle is just asking them to eat defensive end as soon as they turn around, never figured out what, in fact, they were. Having an identifiable identity is step one towards having one of those offense things.
Let's try to keep me alive this play, gents [Bryan Fuller]
Is the offensive line… tolerable? Extant? Sieve sieve sieve sieve sieve? I can't say the good feelings are pouring out of spring. This is not a world in which claims that true freshman Mason Cole has a great chance to play the most important position on the line…
Another early enrollee opening eyes at Michigan is OL Mason Cole. Competing for starting LT job. Funk says Cole has great chance to play.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
…can be dismissed as so much spring hogwash. I mean, yeah, it's almost certainly spring hogwash. But given the situation that buzz comes off as a negative thing about people not named Mason Cole as much as it is a positive one about Cole.
Meanwhile Graham Glasgow, the one returning guy who had a job for the entirety of last season, got held out for a while due to an issue that will also see him suspended for The Horror II, and oh good now I'm thinking about what might happen in The Horror II without Michigan's best interior lineman.
Thinking: try not to do it.
Anyway, injuries have held near-sure-LT Erik Magnuson out and forced Michigan to try a parade of guys probably better suited to play guard at that spot. Reading the tea leaves, the most likely starting line for the spring game reads:
- LT David Dawson
- LG Kyle Bosch
- C [Glasgow placeholder]
- RG Kyle Kalis
- RT Ben Braden
And in a perfect world that would remain the line through fall camp except for the insertion of Magnuson. When pinged for offensive line data, Hoke was his usual recalcitrant self but did not seem super enthused all the same:
"The physicalness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who has been a great finisher.
"Probably Graham (Glasgow), as much as anybody, in some ways. Ben (Braden) is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be."
Not that they could be near where they need to be a few months after whatever that was.
Here's to this being the "before" picture. [Fuller]
Are Are De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green any diff—. Previous sentence was tackled for loss. Green's been tweeting out pictures of his weight as he strives to get back down to the bowling ball that was the #1 overall tailback in the country to a couple of different services instead of the bowling ball he was last year. Here is a swathe of boilerplate.
"De'Veon's had a very good spring, Derrick's had a better spring than he did in the fall," Hoke said last week. "Justice Hayes has done some really good things, and I'm really proud of him. Both carrying the ball and in the protection game. It'd be nice to get Drake (Johnson) back and put him in the mix."
Chances are it will be hard to tell much what with the offensive line coming together and folks looking confused, but give me one cut from Green that he probably couldn't have managed last year and I'll be happy.
Is Ross Douglas viable at tailback? I kind of think no if only because the Hoke era has expressed a preference for large men running the ball even if they bring little else to the table other than size. Meanwhile, Douglas's bounce to offense comes in the context of Taylor/Countess/Peppers/Lewis/Stribling, a veritable bounty at corner that Douglas didn't figure to crack any time soon. He's also down the depth chart on offense:
"Justice, De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.
"We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB."
This kind of positional uncertainty is never a good sign for a prospect's future. If Douglas was in the mix at corner he'd be at corner. Instead he's fourth at best at tailback and probably fifth when Drake Johnson gets back.
But there is a new offensive coordinator who may do things like see what happens if you give Dennis Norfleet the ball, so you never know.
But that probably means the secondary is loaded, right? At first blush Michigan has more corner depth than I can remember. They return both starters from last year plus a couple of promising freshman who did the really hard part—sticking with your man—last year before wilting at the last minute. And then there's that Jabrill Peppers dude. Douglas's positional vagabondery would not be taking place if Michigan didn't go five deep in solid options at corner.
Wide receiver war. With Devin Funchess entrenched at wide receiver, playing time there is now at a premium. The departure of Jeremy Gallon opens up scads of catches, some of which will go to Funchess and Jehu Chesson. The rest will get spread out. While a number of those will go to Amara Darboh, who was building up steam with his play in practice last year before a season-ending foot injury, Michigan is still being cautious with him. You won't see him on Saturday:
“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” Darboh said Thursday. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”
One gentleman you will see, and possibly see a lot of, is Freddy Canteen. The freshman early enrollee has been this spring's easy winner of the Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award. Almost literally everyone who has gotten practice buzz or been there themselves has come away talking about his quickness and advanced technique. One example of many:
WR Freddy Canteen creating a buzz this spring at Michigan. Players, coaches very impressed with early enrollee. Getting run with the ones.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
"Running with the ones" is a slightly overrated concept since in the course of a spring or fall practice just about everyone will get their shot on the top team to keep folks motivated and just to see what happens. Even so the Canteen drumbeat has been so consistent that he will be the guy everyone is watching for.
One guy you shouldn't expect anything from: Drake Harris. Harris has been shut down for the rest of spring with a hamstring issue. He had a similar problem for his senior year of high school and at this point it seems like he might be headed for a redshirt with Funchess/Darboh/Chesson/Canteen and last year's three-man class potentially ahead of him on the depth chart.
I'm looking at the man in the mirror. Middle. Whatever. [Fuller]
And then the weird thing. Jake Ryan, middle linebacker. I'm skeptical Ryan will be able to transition to a very different spot that asks him to read and react and then shed responsibly. If he does manage it, it seems like a part of his barbarian nature will be lost. Ryan is a shocking vertical attacker; middle linebackers are not generally tasked with that. When Ryan has been drafted into read and react situations by defensive alignment, it has gone poorly.
But they're going to try it, and spring will be an opportunity to see what's going on with that.
Safeties: we have them? Michigan was clearly dissatisfied with Thomas Gordon midway through last year, which just goes to show that Brady Hoke was in Muncie or San Diego for the decade of Michigan safety play between Marcus Ray and Jordan Kovacs. Great he may not have been; he was pretty much good enough, and when other guys got in the game the step down from pretty much good enough to not was obvious.
Now Gordon is gone and the list of potential replacements is short (inexplicably so given Michigan's apparent need): sophomores Jeremy Clark, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas. Michigan barely has enough dudes to put together a two deep, and there are few candidates to move from corner. Stribling's 176-pound frame would get him run over; ditto Lewis; they're not moving Countess; Taylor's run support is not a strength. That leaves Peppers (moving him away from boundary corner would be a travesty of justice) and redshirt freshman Reon Dawson, who's super super fast but raw and skinny.
So finding someone to play opposite Jarrod Wilson is an important target to hit with few bullets. Here's hoping Clark wins the job with ease; he's got the most experience.
Can a tight end hit something? One of the underrated problems with Michigan's offense a year ago was the tight end spot's total lack of progress. Devin Funchess proved that as a tight end, he was a good wide receiver; more worryingly, AJ Williams was hardly better despite not being, you know, a game changing receiver. Jake Butt was probably the best blocker Michigan had available, and he promptly tore his ACL. Jordan Paskorz left the program.
So. Michigan will hope Williams makes a step forward and turn to two guys coming off redshirt: Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman. They've also converted former SDE Keith Heitzman to that side of the ball. The freshmen are more H-back types than inline ones; Michigan may end up playing them both places just because they have to. Shallman's flirtation with tailback seems over:
Shallman has taken a few reps at running back this spring, but Hoke said he envisions him as a tight end-fullback hybrid.
Given the depth chart that makes sense. I'll be looking for anything resembling a block out of this crew.
Weather. Let's hope it's nice.
When Doug Nussmeier was hired it became clear that multiple changes were on the horizon. One thing not changing: the offensinve coordinator will double as quarterbacks coach. Like his predecessor, Coach Nuss will work directly with the position group of which he used to be a member.
This also meant that the recruiting board would be reevaluated and adjusted to Coach Nussmeier’s liking. Some names have risen, some have fallen, some have been added, and some have been removed. As spring visits are starting to take place Michigan has offered four quarterbacks and there are five others who could be soon.
Blake Barnett – Santiago High School – Corona, CA
Barnett committed to Notre Dame way back in November and the Wolverines offered him on January 20, about two weeks after Coach Nussmeier was hired. Barnett doesn’t appear to be wavering on his commitment to the Irish. He’s not a possibility for Michigan.
Josh Rosen – St. John Bosco – Bellflower, CA
Rosen once told me that Michigan was “too f***ing cold.” and really had zero interest in the Wolverines. That sentiment seems to have changed and I believe Michigan is actually third on his list behind the home-state Bruins of UCLA and Cal. He’s partial to Stanford as well but doesn’t hold an offer from the Cardinal. He is making his decision on March 20th and Michigan may not be out of it just yet....
David Sills – Eastern Christian Academy – Elkton, MD
Sills rose to fame as the 8th grade phenom who committed to USC a few years ago. Today he’s still committed to USC but he will visit Michigan in a few days after being talked into it by current Wolverines and former teammates, Brandon Watson and Freddy Canteen. I asked Sills if a flip to Michigan was something he’d thought about and if they were option #2 behind USC at the moment and he responded in a politically correct fashion. “I’m keeping my options fairly open. Michigan is in the running.” His upcoming visit could be instrumental in securing a flip/commitment from him if that’s what the coaches prefer.
Jarret Stidham – Stephenville High School – Stephenville, TX
Stidham is the most athletic quarterbacks of the offered group and is a true dual-threat kind of talent. He was actually offered the same day that Blake Barnett was and when I originally spoke with him he seemed to like the idea of playing for a coach like Nussmeier. After that day though, his interest in Michigan seemed mild at best and Friday he committed to Texas Tech.
Nick Johns – Gonzaga Preparatory – Washington, DC
Nick Johns is a name that has been hanging around since Borges was still running the offense and Coach Nussmeier decided to keep him on the board. Johns speaks with Nussmeier two to three times a week and maintains high interest in the Wolverines. Coach Nussmeier plans to check Johns out in person some time in the next two weeks to watch him throw. Typically it is protocol for Nussmeier to see a quarterback throw in person before an offer is extended.
Kyle Kearns – Foothill High School – Pleasanton, CA
Kearns is another name that remains from the Borges board and he also continues regular contact with Nussmeier and feels like he is firmly in the mix when it comes to picking up an offer. Kearns told me that Nussmeier is giving the offered guys some time to make up their minds before the next wave of offers go out.
Alex Malzone – Brother Rice High School – Bloomfield Hills, MI
The only local product from the entire list, Alex Malzone has put in the effort to make sure the coaches know he’s around. He has visited multiple times, most recently last week, and stays in close contact with the staff. He says since the hiring of Nussmeier the coaches are showing a lot of interest and plan on watching him throw in person after the dead period.
Travis Waller – Servite High School – Anaheim, CA
A relatively new name on this board, Waller is the best athlete of the group. He’s listed as a dual-threat quarterback but also possesses good size at 6’3” and 190 lbs. and a very clean, natural throwing motion. He lit up when I asked him to give me an overview of what’s going on with Michigan.
I’ve been talking to them once a week. I’m building a pretty good relationship with Coach Nuss! He’s a great guy and I can relate to him a lot. Hopefully I get a chance to visit. They are coming down during our spring ball so I’m looking forward to that. What stands out to me was that he plans on doing some spread and pro-style offenses. It shocked me because most schools I have talked to are all spread. I like being under center a lot actually, which most schools don’t know about me. At Michigan I think I could really get prepared for playing QB at the next level.
Waller currently holds four offers from western universities (Arizona, BYU, Colorado, Washington) but says that Michigan is very high on his list. Waller also mentioned that Coach Nuss has to see him throw in person before an offer will be extended.
Coach Nuss said that they won’t offer a quarterback until they’ve seen them throw in person. He actually said he would offer me right now but he needs to see me in person first, which I respect 100%. I’m really looking forward to him coming out to see me throw!
Brandon Wimbush – St. Peters Prep – Jersey City, NJ
Wimbush is another name that has been off and on throughout the Borges regime and into the Nussmeier era. He was once thought to be a Buckeye lock, but the hiring of James Franklin at Penn State has put the Nittany Lions squarely in the mix. His relationship with Coach Nuss has also blossomed and Michigan may be right up there with their Big Ten brethren.
Not much is really new with Michigan, I’ve just been staying in touch with Coach Nuss, we talk about two or three times a week over Twitter. I hope that offer comes man, hopefully sometime in the spring it will. I have to meet Coach Nuss in person first. I’m sure that will go a long way towards an offer. I’m going to try my best to visit sometime this spring. Coach Manning also will be up to watch me throw soon too.
I asked Brandon about the Buckeyes and any other school that is standing out to him and he played it close to the vest saying he has no leader, just all top schools right now. Ohio State did offer him early, but now that a lot of other schools are showing heavy interest he has definitely slowed down and evened out a bit.
Of the quarterbacks that already hold offers Sills and Rosen are both possibilities for a commitment at this point and one of them is technically committed elsewhere. Sills' verbal pledge to USC is viewed as soft at best and Ricky Town is now also a member of the Trojan recruiting class making Sills’s decommitment seem inevitable. His upcoming visit to Ann Arbor looms large as an integral cog in his recruitment.
Each of the unoffered targets all seem to be offer-worthy according to the coaches based on the effort being put forth to stay in contact with them, visit them, and set up throwing sessions for each of them. With each prospect being in regular contact and all showing similar interest it really is difficult to say who the lead dog is right now for a potential offer. The way things have heated up so quickly with Waller and Wimbush leads me to believe that Nussmeier favors them, but he’s made it a point to remain in close contact and keep the other three on the board as well. The Sills visit is the first domino in the series of events involving quarterback recruiting for the 2015 class.