The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?
I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.
Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…
…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.
The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.
That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:
They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.
[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]
[I jumped in mid-answer]
“We’ve got two coaches who love to hit. With coach Drevno the O-line is real tough this year. On the D-line we've had a lot of guys step up and play real hard, so it’s been a real hard-hitting camp.”
Talk about yourself and where you’ve made progress since the end of last season.
“I think Coach Mattison has helped me with my technique a lot and also coach [Will] Carr has helped me and Mo [Hurst] with our technique a lot. He's helped us out a lot. As far as technique, I feel like our effort has always been there but we haven't always been the sharpest technique-wise, but I think that’s been a lot better since last year.”
What makes coach Mattison such a good coach?
“I think it’s experience of coaching. He’s coached every type of line.”
And guys like Ray Lewis.
“Yeah, he’s coached every type of guy. He knows how to get to it with coaching. He’s not going to coach everyone the same. He knows how to push buttons in the right way, and he has really constructive criticism and I think that’s what makes him a good coach.”
Last year you did have a scholarship. Are you still technically a walk-on? Have you heard anything about a scholarship?
“No, I actually got one last year after the season.”
[After THE JUMP: Chesson, Rudock, and Bolden]
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: moderate. 1: difficult. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
|Amara Darboh||Jr.*||Jehu Chesson||Jr.*||Grant Perry||Fr.||Jake Butt||Jr.|
|Moe Ways||Fr.*||Drake Harris||Fr.*||Brian Cole||Fr.||Ian Bunting||Fr.*|
|Jaron Dukes||So.*||Da'Mario Jones||Jr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Khalid Hill||So.*|
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
Last year's WR corps was a bit like the famous Braylon/Avant/Breaston trio if those guys had been coached by a potato and inserted into a disaster of an offense and gradually lost their will to live and halfway through the season they accidentally left Breaston in Piscataway and Breaston had to fend off a pair of cartoonishly dumb burglars with a series of elaborate traps.
artist's impression via Seth
This year's WR corps is down the Braylon and Breaston equivalent-type-substances, leaving only a substantially more unproven version of Avant, Jehu Chesson, and a bunch of guys who have seen maybe six snaps between them.
But Drake Harris maybe? Shh. You'll spook the hamstring. Let's be nice to the hamstring. Good hamstring. Does hamstring want a treat? Yes it does. Nice hamstring.
As soon as Devin Funchess declared for the NFL draft, AMARA DARBOH became this year's presumptive #1 wide receiver. Normally that would be met with mild optimism since Darboh is a touted recruit entering his redshirt junior year with decent production. Also he did this:
But in the crater left after last year's offense got done with our brains it's hard to be positive about anything in the micro. (The macro, of course: HARBAUGH.)
In the tortured analogy above, Darboh is our substantially more unproven Avant. Avant was of course a quality possession receiver and slant merchant who is not much of a threat to take the top off a defense. When Darboh had a catchable ball come his way, he looked fairly similar:
He is not likely to be as good as Avant because Avant is 100 out of 100 in certain skills. Darboh might be very good and still a standard deviation below that level of performance.
[After THE JUMP: DON'T ALARM THE HAMSTRING]
“Nice to see everybody. I just spent a nice 45 minutes over at the Weber’s with the M Club of Ann Arbor. Now I get to be here with you to follow that up. It doesn’t get any better!”
What have you seen from your offense so far, and what do you like about the competition?
“What I love about the competition is that…oh, where you talking about offense?”
“It’s been good. Intense competition, which it always is on a football team. There’s a great deal of honor and satisfaction to be one of the 11- a starter. Competition for those roles has been intense, as you would expect. Offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Any updates on the quarterbacks?
“I was informed that our competition for Thursday night’s ball game, Utah, would be sending us their official depth chart Monday, and in the interest of fair and healthy competition we will also send our official depth chart on Monday as well.”
Does that mean you’ll have made up your mind by Monday, or are you still hashing it out?
“Like a lot of positions there are some that are very close, some are closer than others, some are still being competed for, and some positions there’s individuals that are ahead. To give you an example, the kicking position is very tight right now and still playing out. At some positions it might continue into the ball game itself. Yeah. I think we’re getting a good idea of things, whether it’s even, close, or someone’s ahead at this point.”
Is it important for you to tell your QBs or team who that is so they can rally behind that one guy?
“To the team? Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been ongoing and that takes place.”
I don’t know if you-
“And they do. They do. It’s been a tight, close competition. Especially at that position.”
[After THE JUMP: “You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion”]
Drake Harris is ready to put on the pads and play. [Fuller]
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Drake Harris hasn't seen game action for the better part of two years because of hamstring injuries, but the talented Grand Rapids native says he's healthy and ready to contribute this fall. This was part of a scrum, so only a few of these were MGoQuestions, and there's a little bit of overlap with injury questions.
[walked in partway through question] …do you know you’re ready?
Oh yeah. We ran 40s, that’s sprinting. We had one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens basically every day during the spring and summer, so I was basically sprinting and running every day, working.
So you’re ready to go, you think?
Oh yeah. I’m good. … I feel great. This is the best I’ve felt in I don’t know how many years. Running 40s and everything, I feel good.
So you’re planning on being a starter?
(Laughs.) I mean, that’s the goal for me, to start. I just have to take it day by day and take it from there.
Are you playing anything outside of wide receiver? Punt returns? Kick returns?
They had me playing a little bit of corner in the spring, but my primary position is wide receiver.
What’s it been like working with Jedd Fisch coming in with all the experience he has at the professional level?
It’s been great. Like you said, he’s worked at the professional level, so he’s worked with great wide receivers like Brandon Marshall. I’m learning different drills from him, different techniques, it’s helped me out a lot being a wide receiver and growing.
What’s been the biggest difference in terms of what you guys are doing in practice versus previous years?
We have four-hour practices, basically, so they’re long practices. It’s not really that much different. It’s more up-tempo, very up-tempo, all the practices. They split teams so you get a lot more reps, like for younger players, so it’s good for all of us.
It’s pretty wide open with the receivers this year. Do you think that’s helped with the competition, getting more reps in?
Yeah, for sure. Being able to get more reps and learning the plays and throwing with all the different quarterbacks, it’s good. It’s good for all of us.
I know you’re sick of getting asked about it, but how’s the hamstring feeling?
It’s good. This is the best I’ve felt in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had any problems with it for the last six months, I’d say. I’ve put on some weight and I think that’s helped a lot with it.
What are you up to?
You mentioned playing corner a little bit in the spring. It seems to be a pretty common thing with this team. What was that experience like?
It was a learning experience. I’ve never really played corner. I played it a little bit in high school but I never thought I was going to play it in college, but my primary position is still receiver. I think they were just trying me out at corner a little bit because I have length and me playing basketball, those skills translate to playing corner. It was a learning experience for sure.
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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.