The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
“What are you shaking your head about? Don’t start this like that. I want positive karma out of you. Hi. How you guys doin’? Heiko, what’s happenin?”
MGo: Not much.
“Always good to see you.”
MGo: It’s good to see you, too.
“You didn’t mean that.”
MGo: I’m really sad that you didn’t run any pistol formations.
“We don’t have any pistol formations. How could we run it? But if you’d like us to put them in we’ll be happy to do so just to make you happy.”
MGo: That would be great.
“Because my life revolves around your happiness if you haven’t figured that out by now.”
The first play from scrimmage was a 30-yard pass down the sideline to Amara Darboh. Was that to show people that they don’t need to worry about the wide receivers?
“Heh. No. That wasn’t what I was thinking. No, we were just thinking -- it’s always a good idea every so often in coming out on offense to try and take a ball deep. Our defense isn’t necessarily like this, but a lot of defenses will get a little reckless, you know? They’ll try and create a safety or whatever. A deep ball sometimes is a pretty good deal so we just decided at least once we were going to try and do that. That’s the reason for it.”
Long. Splitting into halves.
It's a trend: Michigan spring games have returned to their sleepy past, meaning little and failing to reveal Savior Quarterback Who Will Save Us. This is a good thing, since the titanic importance of spring games under Rodriguez was symptomatic of a program drunkenly staggering from one rickety support to another.
It would be nice if Michigan could put together an actual game like you see at OSU, ND, and many SEC schools. Maybe next year.
Anyway, highlights to remind you of some of the things chattered about below:
The most important thing that happened yesterday was Hoke muttering something about Jake Ryan's return timeframe:
"I'm not a doctor, but possibly middle of October. Some people react differently."
That would be excellent. The critical bit of Michigan's schedule is… well, all of November, when they play State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and OSU, ie: the top half of their division, Iowa, and The Game. The only games before November that look competitive are against Notre Dame and Penn State, and Penn State should start dropping off what with their sanctions.
Ryan may even be back for that one, which is on the 12th. Indiana and a bye week follow, so Ryan may not just be back by the important bits of the schedule but established. As far as devastating season-ending ACL injuries to your best player on defense go, I like this one more than I expected I would.
Meanwhile, Blake Countess and Fitzgerald Toussaint both warmed up like nothing untoward had happened to them. (Neither was taking contact.) Countess's injury is far enough in the past that it's reasonable to expect that. Seeing Toussaint out there was a moment of shock for me. He didn't take any contact but if he's out there running five months before the season he will certainly be available in fall, which is when those soccer players who had the same injury came back anyway.
Devin Gardner Looked Good
this picture feels goooood (Eric Upchurch)
If Denard Robinson hadn't gotten hurt, this would have in fact been a Big Deal, as Gardner would be an heir apparent with no track record except his performance in the three previous spring games: awful, awful, and awful. With five starts dwarfing all spring data in importance, it's not a big deal. It is nice. Precisely nice.
In this one he did throw his traditional pick six to a linebacker he doesn't see coming underneath a receiver (Desmond Morgan dropped this one); aside from that he was 11 of 15 for about 140 yards, picking up where he left off in the fall. That's a very large jump from last year, when Gardner's performance had everyone buzzing about how Russell Bellomy looked like a plausible backup and let's just move Gardner to wide receiver already.
Here's the part you'll see about six more times before the opener about how if you extrapolate Gardner's statistics out to a full season you get some crazy numbers: 60% completion percentage, 9.7 YPA, 29:13 TD:INT, and nearly 3200 yards passing. That would be a Michigan record for TDs and brush up against John Navarre's 2003 season for yards. It would also vie for the best YPA season in the era when offenses throw the ball more than ten times a game—Jim Harbaugh hit 9.9 in 1986*.
Those numbers are a touch flattering since they include the bail-out against Northwestern and a couple of long touchdowns generated more by the defense screwing up than Gardner doing anything amazing—thinking primarily of Roundtree against OSU here. But then again we're talking about a guy who had been playing most receiver before being thrust into the starting job against Minnesota and a statline assembled against a set of defenses that were collectively pretty good. Pass efficiency Ds for the five Gardner opponents: 23rd (Minnesota), 33rd (Northwestern), 75th (Iowa), 29th (OSU), and 34th (South Carolina). At most one of those is a flailing patsy, and even the dismal Iowa defense was a far cry from MAC snacks not named Central Michigan.
Anyway: Gardner's calm demeanor and accuracy is another chunk of evidence to put on the pile. Maybe a small one, sure.
*[Rick Leach had a whopping 11 YPA in 1979, but only threw the ball 130 times. Yes, he only threw 130 times when he had Anthony Carter as an option. Football has changed.]
Running Backs: Wait Until Fall
With Fitzgerald Toussaint now certainly on the list of running backs not participating on Saturday who will be major threats for playing time, any conclusions drawn here are likely to be about the guy getting two carries a game behind Fitz and Derrick Green or DeVeon Smith. But it is spring, when we display our most colorful obsessions in an attempt to win mates. Let us proceed.
Going by the substitution patterns it seemed like Justice Hayes was tentatively your starter. He took advantage of this situation to average 0.5 YPC on two carries. Drake Johnson picked up less than a YPC himself, leaving Thomas Rawls and Dennis Norfleet to pick up the only real gains of the day by a tailback.
Both of those backs were going up against primarily backups. Usefulness: not assured. I mean, in one of the longish Rawls runs above he breaks a tackle from Terry Richardson, who's still about a buck fifty soaking wet. In the other a walk-on SAM gets crushed inside and the corner is open for days.
It will surprise no one that I thought Norfleet looked good. In the run featured at 2:10 in the highlight video he's behind mostly walk-ons and facing mostly starters. Black beats up Blake Bars and forces Norfleet away from blocking. Norfleet slips behind that block so fast that RJS has no shot at him, then he jukes Jeremy Clark out of his jock—and this is important for any coach but especially one Brady Hoke—to go north-south. On his other quality run (sadly not included in the highlights) he did the same thing: threaten outside so he could cut north-south and finish his run.
(@ right: Upchurch)
They did include the blown up zone stretch, and on that one you can see he just doesn't have a chance as Keith Heitzman rips through a block and forces Norfleet outside into Cam Gordon. He probably should have just eaten a two yard loss instead of testing Gordon.
Here's the thing though: Michigan didn't show a snap of pistol or much of anything, really. You know Al Borges loves his throwback screens, especially when he's got a guy as mobile as Gardner threatening the other side of the field. Who do you want grabbing those? Obviously Norfleet. Okay maybe Hayes, but we haven't really seen anything from him in that regard yet. Whoever gets that role has got to be plausible enough as an inside runner and blocker to not be a flashing throwback screen signal. I think we saw a couple things from Norfleet that bode well in that regard.
It's harder to get excited about Rawls given what we saw from him last season. Norfleet has the advantage of being a new toy, at least when it comes to getting carries in the backfield.
Receivers: Are They Supposed To Be A Problem?
Jeremy Gallon is going to catch a billion passes this fall, lots of them hitches, some of them hitch and go, some of them comeback screens. It's not so much the frequency with which Gardner targeted him on Saturday that makes me say this but the ease of the connection. When Gardner's throwing at Gallon it just seems easy.
Gallon reminds me of that moment after Braylon's departure when Michigan tried to establish Breaston as a deep threat. This was a rousing success until the moment Breaston had to bring in a ball over his head. IIRC he dropped it literally every time. But by God he was open.
Gallon is like that. His change of direction is elite, and Michigan is going to go hitch hitch hitch seeya this fall. By God, Gallon will be open. The difference: Gallon can actually catch downfield. His stature always makes him a tough target—see that corner route Gardner zinged well over his head—but we've seen him make a bunch of tough catches. Hell, he's even effective on fade routes in the endzone, a development that is still mindblowing even months afterwards.
Upshot: don't care if he's small, Gallon is a legit #1. Hell, he was fourth in the league in receiving yards last year despite operating in a Denard-centered offense for most of it. Let's have more Fun With Extrapolation: Gallon's hypothetical stats if Gardner was QB all year: 81 catches, 1330 yards.
Meanwhile, the guys surrounding Gallon will be fine. Drew Dileo didn't do much in the spring game but we've established who he is: a sure-handed slot guy who will find the foot of space he needs to convert on third and six. Devin Funchess should be a much bigger factor in year two. This is a proverbial weapon:
Darboh looked good finding a 30-yard fade on the first play from scrimmage; Jeremy Jackson made some plays. They'll have 4-5 solid options to go with a great #1. As points for concern go, this one doesn't register with me.
As for the second-year guys, Darboh seems a bit ahead of Chesson; both will play. You can see why Chesson redshirted last year when you get him next to Darboh, as Bryan Fuller did:
Still a bit of a Caris LeVert vibe from Chesson. They might have to protect him against jams by having him off the line, that sort of thing. Darboh looks like that won't be a problem.
I can't tell you I noticed a lot of details live, but one thing did jump out: Graham Glasgow seems to be making a serious push for playing time. He got plenty of snaps with the ones at both guard spots and center. He was the nominal starter at left guard over Ben Braden; at the very least it seems like he'll be the first interior lineman off the bench in the event a starter is hurt. He's their utility infielder.
The rest of the line seems set, with Kyle Kalis taking a large majority of the first team RG snaps and Jack Miller the same number at center. It is vaguely possible the arrival of Patrick Kugler or emergence of someone down the depth chart upsets the order of things, but I think that's your interior line: Glasgow OR Braden, Miller, Kalis. Joey Burzynski seems to have dropped back from the group with serious playing time prospects. Chris Bryant was well down the depth chart but did get on the field some. He could emerge if the injury is still holding him back.
Performance was a mixed bag. Michigan seems to want to pull Kalis to Lewan on a lot of plays. Good in theory; not entirely executed in practice. For example, at 1:10 in the highlights above you get a replay of last year's MLB misidentification: Michigan wants to run power behind Lewan with Kalis pulling; Michigan blitzes the A-gaps; Miller doesn't read this and sets up to block nobody; an unblocked Ross meets Johnson in the backfield, with Morgan unblocked right behind. Braden got smoked by Black for a sack a bit later.
Michigan yanked Lewan relatively early. Michigan put Erik Magnuson out there, and he did just okay. Pass rush was a lot easier to get with Lewan out of there (surprise!). Given the push Braden is making at guard I bet that any Lewan injury—knock on wood—sees Schofield flip to LT with Braden moving to RT and Glasgow drawing in at guard, if he's not already on the field. Michigan prefers a best-five-guys approach over any specific positional backup.
Defense in a bit.
- Blake Countess and Fitz Toussaint should be back for the season opener.
- Jake Ryan could be available as early as mid-October.
- Devin Funchess got dinged up during the game but should be fine.
My nice camera is broken, so here is a high-res iPhone shot. Note the bling.
“I think we got 65, 66 plays in, which is about where we wanted to be. We got some situational work that I wanted to get done. We need to really get a lot of the young guys up front on both sides of the ball. We want to continue to improve some of the fundamentals on both sides of the ball. Running the football is one of them, and playing the run and getting off blocks -- we have to do a little bit of that. We got to do a little bit of red zone. That’s one area that we need to continue to work on on both sides of the ball. The guys went out there, it’s the first day we’ve been outside, which is unusual. But we got done what we wanted to get done.”
That was the first time you practiced outside all spring?
Talk about Devin’s first long completion, and some of the passes he threw today in this weather?
“Well, Devin naturally throws a tight ball. When you throw a tight ball, and he’s got good arm strength -- he has good velocity on it. He can cut through the wind pretty well. He’s always thrown a long ball pretty well. He had a pretty good day.”
Talk about Jack Miller at center and Chris Wormley’s return?
“You know, I think Jack has really -- there’s great competition, him and Graham Glasgow at the center position. I think Jack has really grown as a player. Again, so much of this is about the fact that he’s made some real strides in his accountability and about being the bell cow when you look at the offensive line. Chris was a little tentative early in the spring, but I think he’s had a good spring. His recovery, confidence and those things [are good].”
“I think the young guys and Jeremy Jackson -- I think Jeremy’s really having his best spring. You look at Jehu [Chesson] and Amara [Darboh], I think both those guys have really come a long way. They both are very talented and do a lot of different things. Joe Reynolds. I think Joe keeps pushing everybody. Joe’s a guy that’s played a lot of positions, and that’s real positive.”
What about Graham Glasgow makes him able to rotate through all three positions?
“Smart, number one. Very intellient. He’s tough, which you need to be, physically and mentally. He has a real passion for the game.”
Talk about your pass rush -- looked like Taco got to the quarterback a couple times and actually hit him …
Was that something that you saw consistently throughout the spring?
“Well I think we’ve grown. I think we’ve got some young kids who have some ability. With Greg and his passion with how he teaches rushing the passer, the work that’s been put in … and the guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do. We’ve worked on it. We’re not near what we can be and will be, but I think we’re a little better at it.”
Thoughts on Blake Countess’s spring and the secondary in general?
“Well, Blake, he’s healthy. Kept him out of contact. Same with Fitz [Toussaint]. I think that’s just the best way to go about it. They both played a number of snaps. The secondary, the competition level at a core position -- you want it there. You can say the same thing about the safeties. Jeremy Clark is a guy who’s a pretty good player. Marvin [Robinson] has shown great glimpses through his career here. Thomas is having a real solid, real good spring. He’s been very much the leader. And then Jarrod played quite a bit a year ago, but he’s come along.”
What was your evaluation of the backup quarterbacks today?
“I think with Brian [Cleary] and [Alex] Swieca, it was good to give them snaps with people here. People in the stadium, playing in this stadium. Both of them handled themselves well. We put the ball on the ground on a snap, which we can’t afford to do. Whose fault was it, I’m not sure. But we need to do a better job with that. As far as the growth that they both have made, it’s been positive.”
James Ross was in the middle of a lot of plays today. Have you been seeing that from him all spring?
“Yeah James has had a pretty good spring. He’s a good football player. Very instinctive. He’s got a burst, movement to the football. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to take on blocks.”
Are Ross’s instincts unorthodox similar to Jake Ryan?
“No. No he’s not unorthodox. He’s going to be a little more of a technician, but it’s still football instincts.”
What are your thoughts on the transtion to pro-style offense?
“I think it’s gone very well. I think I’d be shocked if we didn’t show a whole lot of anything today as far as scheme and all those things. That’s what we’ve run before we came here. We still have elements -- you can still tell from the play-action game standpoint how comfortable Devin is and how good he can be.”
Offensive line was up and down today. How big of a focus is improving the interior line going to be moving forward?
“Look, we’re going to focus on all of it, what we do from here on as a team and what they do together, the seniors and all that. Objectively there were some good plays offensively and there were some good plays defensively.”
How likely is it that you bring in a JUCO transfer at quarterback?
“I -- I don’t know. It could happen. It couldn’t happen.”
Looked like something happened to Funchess …
“He’ll be all right.”
Any update on Hagerup’s status?
What would you need to see from a JUCO transfer in order to take him?
“He’d better be pretty good. That’d be the first and what would fit what we want to do with the scheme and what we want in a quarterback. ”
Talk about Fitz’s progress? Other running backs?
“Fitz, he’s made really good strides. He probably could have done a little more, but I think his progress is pretty good. I think Thomas [Rawls] made a nice run in there today, had a really nice cut. [Dennis] Norfleet made a guy miss in the hole. I think Drake [Johnson] ran hard, and Justice [Hayes] protected well a couple times there, but we’re a work in progress. Has there been any separation? I don’t think so yet. We’ll go through some of it in the fall.”
What kind of clarity did today provide as fars as your No. 2 quarterback?
“Well I think Brian is [No. 2].”
Is that your ’97 championship ring there?
Any significance to bringing that out today?
“Uh, I usually don’t wear it, so … just had it on.”
Just felt like putting it on today?
“Yeah. Went with my … shoes.”
Would you expect Fitz and Blake to be back for the opener?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt.”
What is the likely timetable for Jake Ryan?
“You know, I’m not a doctor. But. Possibly middle of October. Some people react differently.”
Impact of Taylor Lewan on offensive line?
“Taylor’s done a great job with those guys. That’s one reason why he wanted to come back. Physicalness that they need to play with, targeting, all those things that go with that. He’s taken that really personally. I think the group of them, and the competition will really -- it’s been great. They’ll be impactful.”
How much of a strength will the tight end position be, and what kind of role will Jake Butt have?
“Well I think Jake being here has made it a stronger position. He’s a guy who can catch the ball in space, run well, but he’s also a guy that blocks well at the line of scrimmage for a guy who’s been here since January. We’re excited about what he brings added to the guys we have here.”
- Toussaint is in pads. Walking around and stuff. Not doing everything yet but progress looks good.
- Thomas Gordon is practicing at both safety positions so they can try the other guys out at both positions as well.
- Blake Countess's redshirt application has not been filed yet, but it will be.
- Frank Clark is staying at WDE despite gaining a lot of weight. There are no plans to move him to strongside.
“It was good to be the first day in pads. I thought we had a lot of enthusiasm like the physicalness that they played with -- really for the last three days, because even with the no-pads they got after each other pretty good. We have a lot of competition, have a lot of young guys that have to go out and compete. And then some of the older guys who have played, obviously, and they have to compete also. Everybody understands that, so it’s been good. I think the leadership’s good. I like the way they’ve handled themselves and handled the team. Like I said before, that stems from the winter into this phase.”
- TE Nate Allspach, S Drew Offerdahl, and DL Kenny Wilkins have left the team.
- Everyone who was injured last season (Blake Countess, Chris Wormley, Fitz Toussaint, Chris Bryant) will participate in spring practice in some capacity. Wormley seems pretty far along and may be able to do everything. Fitz is recovering faster than expected.
- Will Hagerup is still suspended.
- Manball is still happening, even with Devin at QB.
- Interior linebackers will be expected to practice at both positions. Earlier I tweeted that Desmond Morgan will switch to MIKE and Joe Bolden will switch to WILL. Ignore that for now -- they'll be doing both.
“It’s exciting. I like how we worked during the winter and the winter conditioning and that phase of it. Excited for Saturday to get started. Spring ball’s for a lot of different things. You find out your competitiveness. You find out the guys -- who’s made the biggest improvements since fall and winter. [We’re excited to] have a great competition positionally on offense and defense. And just excited. Really, we all like how we’ve come to work every day and what the guys have done from a genetic (?) standpoint and what they’ve done in the weight room with Aaron Wellman. So we’re excited.”
Two photos by Upchurch made into one.
I've been spending much of the last week going through last year's photos by Eric Upchuch (ChewerD on the site) to find the good stuff for this year's HTTV. Ninety-five percent just gets deleted, several hundred make it to folders I can access for various players and stuff. Then there's the shots and sequences that I can't, for whatever reason, use in the book but can't in good conscious throw out. So here you go.
You know those guys who stick their heads in lions' mouths? We've got a cameraman who'll stick his lens inches from Jake Ryan. Peer into the soul of the Viking.
[The rest after THE JUMP]