In the half-hour we spent on the field talking to players at Sunday's Media Day, the theme of this offseason and fall camp was clear: change is here. For the offense, that means a change in coordinators, and with that a significant difference in how they practice. The tempo is being pushed like never before in Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan, and that also affects the defense, which is dealing with change of their own, as the coaching staff on that side shifts roles while the defense moves from a 4-3 under to a 4-3 over.
I caught up with Dennis Norfleet, Jake Ryan, and Wyatt Shallman to discuss these changes and more, including Ryan saying he feels fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to just five starts in 2013. Tomorrow, I'll have further player interviews with the significant portion of the team that hails from Cass Tech.
You're getting work in the slot now pretty much exclusively, it sounds like. How comfortable are you at that position right now?
I'm getting a lot better. The wide receiving crew is really helping me out a lot. Coach Hecklinski is a great coach, he's getting me to feel comfortable when I get in there and getting me comfortable with my plays, so I'm doing pretty well.
What's been the biggest difference with the new offensive coordinator, the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is we're moving faster, up-tempo. We're a lot better as an offensive crew, we're more than a team, we're a family, so that's what makes a big difference to us now.
With that big increase in tempo, it sounds like you guys are getting more reps in. How much of a difference has that made in terms of getting more comfortable in the offense?
It's a making a lot of difference. It's a big difference because we have a lot of rotation, everybody gets to know their plays, nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference.
How do you see your role being this year? Obviously you're playing the slot, but there's a lot you can do, so how do you see yourself being utilized in the offense this year?
I'm just doing my job, you know. If I get open space, I do what I do best, you know. I'm also being a role model for the younger players that came in. We're basically working as a team in everything that we do.
At returner, you obviously have a lot of experience there. Coach Hoke said you're getting a lot of the reps there but that there are a couple freshmen who are also coming in and making a push. How do you feel at returner right now, and is that a place you feel you can make a really big impact?
Kick returning has always been something that I go into the game and everything, you know, willing that I want to return a kick [for a score] every game. We've been rotating a lot, we've got a lot of players that are competing, spots that's not really set out for who starts where, so we're just having fun in camp right now and competing.
It sounds like both at slot and returner that you're working a lot with Freddy Canteen. What have you seen out of him in the spring and fall so far?
Canteen's becoming a better young man, not just a football player, just in life. He's been looking up to the older receivers, like Devin Funchess, me, [redshirt senior walk-on Anthony] Capatina. It's just a lot of people he can look up to, to become a better person, both in our lives and football.
You keep mentioning how you guys have come together as a team. What's been the biggest change since last year, and do you feel like as an upperclassman now you're really grown into a leadership role?
When I came in, I did things that upperclassmen always told me was wrong that I didn't think were wrong, but now that I'm older I can see what they were talking about. You know, it's more than just a game. We're trying to win a championship, the Big Ten, so as we go along that's the focus of our days. That's what we're ready for.
[Hit THE JUMP for Jake Ryan discussing his transition to middle linebacker and his full recovery from the ACL tear, and Wyatt Shallman talking about his role in the offense and the changes in style under Doug Nussmeier.]
Click to big. Right-click to open in a separate window so you can reference it as you go.
A few weeks ago I promised to finish this piece on the differences for Michigan's personnel in the 4-3 over. Sorry.
Refresher: What's a 4-3 Over? What you're looking at are alignments of the front seven. The "under" shifts the defensive line away from the strength of the defense and the linebackers swing the opposite way to compensate. Michigan would often align this to the hash rather than the offense, shifting the DL toward the sideline.
The "over" shifts the line the opposite way, but not to such an extreme. The linebackers wind up centered over the ball, and the DL spread across the formation. There is nothing 3-4 about it except the nose tackle.
Last time I talked about how going from a base under to a base over will demand the WDE and 3-tech play a little bigger, the SDE can play more like a rush end, and the nose's job stays pretty much the same except he's now the backside DT. Now on to the second level.
Strongside Linebacker (SAM): James Ross/Royce Jenkins-Stone
The 4-3 under is tough to run against—often they wind up blocking the backside DE in hopes of getting something from a cutback, since it's hard for the LT to get to anybody else. That meant the WLB could be a free hitter
On inside zone that strongside (right) tackle is trying to get a free release. The 3-tech could get aggressive and slow him up but the danger of playing aggressively on the DL against a zone running team is you open up the backside. The faster the OT gets out to the second level the more room there's going to be for the running back to dodge around the DT. A SAM who can read IZ quickly will be all up in that OT's face, able to affect both frontside gaps without opening up the backside cut. Every half-second of delay on the SAM's part is another yard for the offense.
But the SAM can't get crazy-aggressive attacking the OT or the C gap because that tight end is an eligible receiver, and there's another receiver on that side of the formation who could be slanting or dragging. Since the guess is Michigan wants Jake Ryan to be aggressive in the middle, Ross will end up in a lot of zone drops or in man-to-man on the tight end.
The fit: The WLB in the 4-3 under that James Ross played last year isn't hugely different, but it wound up playing differently because Ross was constantly having to take on blockers thanks to Michigan's Jibreel-Black-is-a-NT stunt-a-thon. His quick-twitch reads will be an asset, and his speed and coverage ability will be also. Michigan State's defense had Denicos Allen blitz a ton from this position, and got away with it because the handsy press coverage took care of the slant/drag passes that punish it, and because they had Max Bullough to read and react at MLB. Ross will get to blitz more than he did as the backside linebacker, but I'm guessing Michigan would rather he be the read-react-hit-spill dude so Jake Ryan can go viking.
[jump for the other two spots]
This here Friday because not enough for Dear Diary.
What do you think of the transition to a 4-3 over? Who else is running it? Is it so much of a shift?
Ace: While I was skeptical at first—it felt like a bit like a panic move—I've started talking myself into this being a positive change. The main reason is that it should allow Michigan to generate more of a pass rush, and in less predictable ways. Seth pointed out the benefits for both Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer in his post—they slide into roles more suited to their abilities in a way that gets them on the field at the same time. Add in the ever-present threat of Jake Ryan blitzing up the middle and I think the pass-rush will be improved thanks to this switch.
|When you have Clark and Beyer (and Ojemudia and Taco etc.) available this isn't the best use of Jake Ryan [Fuller]|
The defense should also be better suited to go against spread attacks by keeping Ryan in the middle. He no longer has to worry about playing over slot receivers or being the primary defender against bubble screens, and when Michigan goes to a nickel, they'll most likely lift James Ross for a defensive back—adding coverage without losing much from the pass rush.
Keeping the linebackers clean against the run is also easier in a 4-3 over; Iowa's linebackers were very successful last year in part because their alignment allowed them to roam free sideline-to-sideline—I was dumb enough to confuse "DTs aren't making plays" for "DTs not doing their job" in that post, when it turned out Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Passat were really good at holding up against double teams while the Hitchens/Morris/Kirksey trio combined for 35.5 TFLs despite rarely blitzing. I highly doubt Greg Mattison's defense will be as passive as Iowa's, but the Hawkeyes still provide a solid blueprint for how to get better production from the linebackers.
That brings me to my biggest concern, however, which is the defensive tackles. I believe the Henry/Pipkins combo will hold up fine at the nose, but the lack of experience at 3-tech is worrisome. The good news is both Chris Wormley and Matt Godin—the likely rotation there, along with Ryan Glasgow—were tweener DE/DT recruits with large frames, solid strength at the point of attack, and some concern about their edge-rushing ability; the last part matters much less now, and as long as they're not ceding ground with regularity, the experienced linebackers should be able to work behind them (Northwestern's linebackers managed to stand out in their 4-3 over even though their DTs routinely let the seas part).
My other main concern is how Ryan will handle more offensive linemen releasing to block him at the second level, but I have the feeling he'll figure it out. It's clear the coaches have been planning this shift for a while—see: Noah Furbush, MLB recruit—and despite a few minor bumps along the road I still have a great deal of trust in Mattison. If, as advertised, this shift allows the defense to be more aggressive in general and more adaptable against spread attacks specifically, I'm on board.
[Jump: Brian and BiSB go over this more. HA!]
The spring game-type-substance maintained its downward importance trajectory, but as it's the last glimpse of one of the big three sports we'll have until fall we'll talk about it all the same. This year's edition further expanded the punting-drills-and-standing-around section of the practice, so observations are necessarily light on the ground.
It's bad when Doug Karsch can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
This video is in Michigan's traditional zoom-o-vision, so you can't actually tell what Lewis did to get in the position he's in for the first interception.
The tone. Last year's "I like this team" has been replaced.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, but we’re not near good enough as a team to win games in the fourth quarter, which we didn’t do (last season), and play on the road,” said Hoke, entering his fourth season. “We’re a long way from being any good."
That reflects the reality of the program.
Depth chart grain of salt reminder. Spring is a season for motivational devices and experiments and therefore places on the depth chart should be regarded as vague indicators more than anything else. Case in point: Graham Glasgow was your second-team right tackle.
Lewis is in your grill yo [Bryan Fuller]
Very aggressive /teddyKGB. Every offseason for a team without an elite defense features coaches promising increased aggression, whereupon most of them quietly drop that promise when the season rolls around and it turns out that for Defense X being super aggressive is a good way to give up quick touchdowns. The cycle repeats the next offseason.
Michigan is promising aggression, and Mattison is putting his cornerbacks where his mouth is. Lewis:
“It’s huge, just getting hands on guys and trying to intimidate them," Lewis said. "That’s our key point right there -- being physical. That’s what (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison is always talking about, being a physical defense.”
They spent most of the scrimmage session in the grills of Michigan wide receivers, playing MSU-style bump and clutch and grab and run. Word from the coaching clinic is that Michigan is adjusting to the way the game has been called of late. Lewis again:
“He said ‘be physical’,” Lewis said. “But he doesn’t care if it’s great defense and we get a penalty.”
This was highly effective when not drawing two flags on Lewis—the second a dubious one—or that one time the offense got Freddy Canteen lost on a deep corner route. Everything else was contested, and when the ball got to the receiver the corners were making a play on it.
Lewis looked terrific after a spring in which inside practice buzz has heralded him as a major comer; hell, he looked terrific most of last year except for the bit where the opposing quarterback regularly put the ball in the six-inch window perfect coverage provides. In this game he had two interceptions and two flags along with other instances where his presence forced drops or tough catches. The first interception came on the first play of the scrimmage (0:45 above).
The video doesn't do it justice since it kind of looks like Lewis is coming over from a zone. That was pure press man coverage on which he did the one thing the gypsy promised him he'd never do: make a play on the ball after achieving his position.
Is he supplanting? I don't know, man. Usually two returning starters who had the number of excellent interceptions Taylor and Countess did have impregnable positions on the depth chart. This situation is not usual, though, as those guys didn't have impregnable positions even as they were doing that—Taylor was yanked from the starting lineup briefly, even. And the last impression Michigan's coaches have is both guys getting smoked by Tyler Lockett, an impression that Countess might have reinforced when Canteen beat him over the top Manningham-style. (Gardner left the throw short and Countess recovered.)
At the very least the competition here is a real one, unlike, say, quarterback. And corner is a position at which a lot of players will see the field. Lewis has at least claimed a spot in Michigan's nickel package, which is half your snaps these days. Even when not in nickel, Michigan rotated last year and they'll rotate this year. It's likely that Lewis gets as many snaps as the starters whether he is one on paper or not, and then you've got Stribling and Peppers. Delonte Hollowell is hanging around, delivering the occasional hard shot on the unsuspecting.
If the spring game indicates one thing, it's that cornerback is better-stocked than it's been in a long-time. Michigan doesn't have a Woodson (at least until fall, anyway), but I can say without hesitation that I'm more comfortable with Michigan's fifth corner than I usually am with their third. Remember Football Armageddon, when Michigan decided covering a first-round NFL draft pick with Chris Graham was their best option? Yeah. Not so much this year.
Wilson got over the top on a late throw [Bryan Fuller]
Aaaand safety. Much less clarity there, and very little to go on from the game-type section. Michigan spent much of the day rolling whoever wasn't Jarrod Wilson to the line of scrimmage to further their aggression goals, whereupon he would cover a fullback or something or watch as a run play did not get to him.
Wilson did have one nice PBU on a looping ball over the top. The ball was late thanks to some pressure that forced Gardner to roll around in the pocket, but that's the kind of ball a safety can make a play on and the play was made.
As far as depth chart stuff goes there was zero clarity. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Delano Hill was slightly preferred. And then I would say "but…" and you would shoot me. Let's not do this gun to the head thing when talking about Michigan's safeties.
The Jake Ryan experiment. First off, the admittedly not-particularly-meaningful spring depth chart gives me the willies. Ryan at MLB, Morgan second-string behind him, Bolden starting, Ross running on the second team at new tinySAM. I am full of the willies.
It's hard to tell much about linebackers in spring, harder yet when the offensive line they're up against is barely releasing to the second level*. On plays where I watched Jake Ryan he looked okay. He's kind of a long, upright guy, so when blockers get into him he tends to let them under him. On the edge he would just juke a guy and explode past him; in the middle you have to take the block on because picking the wrong side of the guy means you just blew your run fit.
I'm not sure where he fits in an over defense, though, so if you're going to make a shift he has to go somewhere.
Meanwhile, Joe Bolden's ample playing time has been mysterious to me. Linebacker remains the hardest position for me to have a Serious Opinion about because there's just so much that goes into it, but the things that Bolden seemed to be screwing up were really obvious things like not being anywhere near your pass drop. Meanwhile when it comes to hitting people in the face and making them stop going forward there is no comparison between Bolden, who has been a drag-you-down tackler to date, and Desmond Morgan, who thumps you and then you stop moving. Michigan's head coach says "toughness" every other word, and Morgan is much closer to that on the field than Bolden.
As a result I've promised to eat a lemon on the internet if Bolden starts the opener over Morgan. The rules: Morgan has to be healthy, Bolden has to start, and Morgan cannot start.
*[Michigan had a great deal of uninspiring runs of 1-3 yards but few TFLs except that one time they put Henry in against the third team OL. This was in large part because the offensive line was doing its damndest to not repeat the mistakes of last year. Instead of popping off opposing DL immediately, they were maintaining doubles longer than you really should. This made life at LB relatively easy and thus many plays where a tailback crosses the line of scrimmage and encounters a pile of men.]
Poggi SDE, Hurst 3-tech, Henry nose on a second or third unit
Line ups and downs. Here the limitations of spring practice overwhelm. Michigan's first-team offensive line read Cole-Bosch-Miller-Kalis-Braden; the second team featured a left tackle with an enormous cast on his hand. Grain of salt, grain of salt, grain of salt.
Anyway, Michigan had a few guys that looked impressive: Bryan Mone entered the backfield with regularity and Maurice Hurst Jr flashed the first step that was the bulk of his recruiting profile. That they've pushed Henry down the depth chart is an excellent sign even if that particular arrangement is clearly motivational after Henry established himself a legit Big Ten player a year ago. Brennen Beyer displayed an excellent ability to discard… uh… true freshman Mason Cole on a number of snaps. Beyer has always been an active hands guy; the question with him is his ability to hold up against 330 pound trucks. A matchup with Cole is not going to answer that.
Michigan got push up the middle of the pocket for large chunks of the scrimmages and while they weren't penetrating on run plays with regularity, see the aside above. When Michigan's options were limited in the half-line drills, they ended up in the backfield more often than not. It seemed like 80% of those runs cut back behind the center, which is a win for the DL in that drill.
As for guys who had bad snaps we will extrapolate much more from than is reasonable: at 2:55 in the video above Derrick Green gets one of Michigan's better runs on the day by bouncing outside; that is there because Glasgow locked up with and drove Henry Poggi well off the ball. Tom Strobel got easily handled on a successful Hayes power play at 2:25; a linebacker wearing a number in the 40s also picked the wrong hole. Also… does anyone know where Chris Wormley was? I don't recall seeing him; I googled to see if anyone had mentioned anything was up with him and came up empty, so I assume he was there but rather anonymous.
I have to punt on other defensive end observations, as I was focusing on the linebackers and secondary for much of the day.
- They're trying to make good on the promise to be aggressive.
- The cornerback depth is terrific and the top end should be quite good.
- Michigan has a solid young core at DT; DE is more uncertain.
- Linebackers… ask again later.
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.
I mentioned this on the podcast, but here's a text version: the recent shuffling in the football program does not fill me with a feeing of warmth. Three things that have happened that make me frown about where we are right now:
Moving Jake Ryan to MLB. The linebackers were slightly disappointing last year but mostly because they ended up playing behind guys like Nose Tackle Jibreel Black and Richard Ash. They weren't kept clean, ate a lot of instant-release blocks, and tried to cope.
Desmond Morgan is a quality player and James Ross will be once someone blocks a dude in front of him; Michigan also returns both of their backups. There is zero reason to move Ryan to the interior.
Meanwhile, SAM is much closer to the WDE spot than either interior one. Michigan will flip its line on up to 40% of their snaps, whereupon Ryan essentially is the WDE. He has never had to read run/pass from behind a defensive line. He's is prone to breakdowns he can get away with on the edge, given his athleticism and time. He has a spot as a WDE in nickel packages that gets him rushing the passer, which he's really good at. He's not used to the zone drops he needs to take from the interior. His best asset—rushing upfield—is going to happen on way fewer snaps.
That move is flat-out nonsense. Who plays SAM now? Are they moving Ross there? Playing Gant? McCray? Any knowledge we don't have about why they're making this move is bad knowledge to have about the future: it basically means that the current returning starters on the interior can't play, unless you want to be a Mike McCray booster.
Reshuffling every defensive assistant. Cornerbacks coach Roy Manning, who has never played or coached cornerbacks, sounds… not good. I'm willing to throw anyone who can recruit at a RB or WR position, but corner seems like a thing that you should either have done yourself or have a heap of previous experience doing.
Other guys do have some experience with the roles they step into, but shuffling these guys around is redolent of panic and seems unlikely to do much of anything to help. They had something very good going with their DL development, something that personnel issues may have obscured last year.
And the defense was basically fine last year until the last two games, when they got ground down by the best rushing offense in the country and blasted off the field by Tyler Lockett. Neither was entirely surprising. Meanwhile, the offensive staff is sacrosanct save the coordinator.
Chris Bryant's departure. Not that I had much hope that Bryant was going to contribute once we'd heard about yet another surgery for the poor kid.
The issue here is that the exit, which Michigan certainly knew about or could predict before signing day, makes the whole no-commits-since August thing look even worse. It reinforces the toxicity that descended on the program midseason. It's one thing to lose the two DL you have on the hook because you can't run for yard one; it's an additional thing to replace them with air.
Depending on the status of a couple of special teams players, Michigan is one or two scholarships short and if inclined could have given a firm handshake to a couple of graduated fifth year guys. It's one thing to have a 16-man class when you've really only got 16 spots; it's another to leave three or four potential slots open, especially when you're the opposite of careful with redshirts.
That's why this class isn't quite what the star average makes it out to be, and why the recruiting tailspin hurts more than just on the defensive line.
These are the reasons I'm feeling nervous. But hey I was just feeling super optimistic in August so I'm probably totally wrong about this! That's the ticket!