"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
It's apparently that arbitrary down time in the offseason when I take a look back at Brian's recruiting profiles for the class that just finished their time at Michigan. In this case, that class is the infamous 2010 group, the last full class brought in by Rich Rodriguez during his time at Michigan.
So, uh, you've been forewarned.
I'll start with the nine offensive players in the class, five of whom were wide receivers. If that sounds like a strange and dangerous way to contruct a roster, you may be a longtime reader of this here blog. Or maybe you just watched the offensive line the last few years. Either/or, really.
We're Really Sorry About The Coaching Thing
As a Pioneer grad, I have no idea how Pioneer won this game.
By the time Brian wrote up Devin Gardner's profile, he'd already enrolled at Michigan and participated in the spring game. The comparison that came up the most in his profile—and, really, the most reasonable one to make at the time—is a pretty good indication of the level of expectation for Gardner's college career:
Why Vince Young? The combination of size, speed, a wonky throwing motion, and the multiple comparisons from gurus tips the balance over to Young, who redshirted despite being the top prospect in the country and didn't come into his own as a passer until he played Michigan in the Rose Bowl—awesome timing!
Guru Reliability: High. Ton of exposure to him. Elite 11 camp, UA game, all that stuff.
General Excitement Level: Towering. Vast. Expansive.
Gardner, of course, stayed on track—except for the cameo at wide receiver—by looking like a future star when he took the reins after Denard Robinson's injury in 2012, and while he had some disappointing outings in 2013, those were largely chalked up to the O-line and playcalling. It came off the rails last year for a host of reasons covered so thoroughly they're not worth bringing up again. Needless to say, reading through his profile leaves one with serious what-could've-been feels.
[Hit THE JUMP for Dramatic Cupcake Hopkins and, well, mostly disappointment.]
- Jerald Robinson has left the team.
- Craig Roh had a bit of a "sore shoulder." Me too, although mine is from pipetting too much. Probably the same thing.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing middle linebacker, not SAM.
- Dennis Norfleet is playing corner, not safety.
- None of the redshirting freshmen OL have practiced at center. Right now the heir apparent to Elliott Mealer is Jack Miller, followed by Graham Glasgow.
“Before I get started talking about what we’re doing and everything, I think our thoughts and prayers go out to those in Connecticut, with that tragedy that happened. It’s unfortunate, and we just want to have them in our prayers, those families that were affected, and the senselessness of what happened.
“With that being said, we got back after today, we had a good practice. This time of year it gets a little dicey because you’re juggling some finals. There’s some guys who had finals but not very many of them that couldn’t be there, so you go through all those kinds of things, and find the times that we can. We’ll go tomorrow morning, and then we’ll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I like how they’ve come out. I know they’ve had good weeks with lifting and running and technique work and those things, so it’s all be real positive.”
this was not a catch
Well, it finally happened: Jerald Robinson has left the team after two years of practice hype did not translate into playing time. Michigan returns Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon, but in non-short-guy receivers the only returning experience is Jeremy Jackson. Darboh, Chesson, and whichever freshmen come in will have to pick it up fast.
Robinson is now the 15th member of the 27-strong 2010 class to exit. The departed:
- Conelius Jones (never showed up, academics)
- Carvin Johnson (played a bit, but transferred midway through Hoke year one)
- Cullen Christian (torched as a freshman, followed Tony Gibson to Pitt)
- Demar Dorsey (academics)
- Terrence Talbott (left team before fall for mysterious reasons)
- Ray Vinopal (same as Christian)
- Terry Talbott (injury)
- Antonio Kinard (never showed up, academics)
- Davion Rogers (never showed up, academics)
- Christian Pace (injury)
- Stephen Hopkins (moved to FB, injured a bit, quit football)
- Austin White (booted off team almost before showing up)
- Ricardo Miller (gave up football after not finding PT)
- Jerald Robinson (presumed transfer after not finding PT)
- DJ Williamson (didn't like football, quit)
What a disaster. Jackson and Dileo are the only WRs left from the five Michigan brought in; Michigan has no other offensive recruits left from that class other than Devin Gardner. There's not much on defense, either: Jibreel Black, Courtney Avery, and Jake Ryan are the only contributors. You are permitted to go poke your Rodriguez voodoo dolls now.
As for the future: Michigan now has a full 25 spots in the current class without anyone else leaving. Lewan is headed to the draft and Michigan's sudden urgency to recruit an additional linebacker or two probably indicates attrition is on its way there, so expect this class to bulge up to 27-28 when all is said and done. Sam Webb suggested on the radio today that Michigan could take up to seven more players from their current total of 21/22, give or take the longsnapper.
I'd expect Green/Dawson/some LB/Delano Hill as four of them, with randoms making up the remainder.
9/15/2012 – Michigan 63, UMass 13 – 2-1
I don't have anything incisive to say about Saturday's events. Even if I did it would be equivalent to taking a scalpel to a pig you dropped out of a hot air balloon: the scene speaks for itself, and you're not going to come out of it with ham.
I'm with this guy:
I started poking around previous events like this to figure out what you're supposed to say when the predictable thing that doesn't mean anything happens, finding this after the 2010 Bowling Green game:
It's been a long time since this has happened, but in the aftermath of a 721-yard outburst against a I-A opponent there's no grand emotional narrative arc to relate. Last year there was a sense of relief after the Western game; the Eastern game was a reminder that sometimes Michigan plays teams obviously worse than they are and beats the pants off them and isn't that nice but sometimes the quarterback goes down and that's not nice at all. The Bowling Green game was that minus a loss to a 3-9 MAC team the year prior—i.e., a pleasant nothing in which crappy special teams play was just an opportunity to rack up more yards on offense.
A couple years further removed from actual losses to these sorts of teams, or even vaguely competitive games and you can't even offer that paragraph. That game… existed.
Things happened, but the only ones you can derive anything slightly meaningful from are scattered opponent-independent events and those in which the domination was not dominating enough for your sense of optimism. Like the defensive line. You know, the one I tweeted my despondency about in the midst of giving up six points. Denard, who made everyone a little leery when he missed on any pass. Yeah, Michigan won by 50 but the only things that meant anything were a tiny bit bad because they implied you might be unhappy at a future date.
This is what happens when you play a UMass and you're still jumpy from the bad old days. Let's always be bored and have little to say, forever and ever, amen.
The Observer/MGoBlog cooperative had not one but two(!) guys on the sideline on Saturday. Regular man Eric Upchurch:
And new guy Bryan Fuller:
A bonus NOTE for anyone out there blogging: the MGoBlog flickr page now has tags and everything, so if you're looking for a Creative-Commons-licensed photo of player X, that's the place to find it. Just hit us with a link if you use one.
This is all offense:
There's a shorter but more diverse MGoBlue version.
Bullets That Didn't Slip On Quite Enough Gore
Brady Hoke not-that-epic double point of the week. Well… nearly 400 yards of total offense and another dump truck of articles wondering if this is something that will hold up in the big bad(?) Big Ten means it's Denard again, doesn't it?
Honorable mention: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Will Hagerup, Frank Clark, probably some OL.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS:
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1: Jeremy Gallon (retroactively awarded for Alabama game)
Chasing Jim Mandich. Devin Funchess adds 34 yards and now needs 1355 to pass Jim Mandich. At his current pace he needs 29 games to do so.
The irrational worry that you all have too. Defensive tackles are killing us. Or will be killing us, at least. Possibly. QUALIFIERS. You get the idea.
Roh makes some plays here and there and will fill a hole, force a bounce, etc. Clark is making some plays, yes against not great competition, but that's something to hang a hat on maybe. The DTs? Yeesh.
It didn't help that Michigan ran a pass-defense crew out there with Roh and Black your two DTs with Clark/Ojemudia and SLB du jour at DE. That was their nickel setup and when Michigan ran it on standard downs the line let guys through. Usually for three or four or five yards, but we're talking about a team that has issues gaining one on most downs. Washington and Campbell weren't in much, were never in together, and Pipkins didn't make an appearance until garbage time. Ash was totally absent.
What do you make of that? Just practicing for what seems a very pass-reliant Notre Dame attack? Willfully giving up some rushing yardage just to get the linebackers reacting to QB draws and runs and whatnot? Or doom?
You can make a case for the former. Michigan started screwing around with their kickoffs to see if they could come up with anything better than Wile belting it eight yards into the endzone (verdict: no), and was probably just working on things they wanted to work on once the score got out of hand.
It gives me the willies, though. Especially Pipkins being exiled to the bench for so long. That implies he's further from the field than everyone wants him to be. Or that diabolical Hoke machinations are waiting for the ND game to spring the Great and Powerful Pipkins on unsuspecting Irish. That's the ticket.
Clark, at least. I know we've gotten just one and a half games from both Clark [@ right by Upchurch] and Beyer. Clark has had the full game versus UMass, Beyer the full game versus Alabama. This is not a strong basis for comparison.
Just eyeballing it, though, gives a clear edge to Clark. He is Making Plays™. Beyer didn't seem to be. Clark was by far the superior option against Air Force and was the most active DL on Saturday. He's making spectacular bat-downs of opponent passes something of a trademark. I like trademarks that aren't "I don't do anything much."
He and Ryan will have to get a ton of pass rush to keep heat off Michigan's secondary. Michigan really, really needs him to be a playmaker. He's the only guy who is consistently getting into the backfield even against the UMasses of the world.
FWIW, it looked like Ojemudia was doing a bunch of freshman things when he got in there. He'd overrun a play with a bad angle and let Cox cut back, giving up a big chunk, or he'd miss a tackle, etc. He's Clark last year.
Funchess. The touchdown was just Funchess being wide open and could have been scored by anyone on the roster, including guys out for the year with injuries. That third-down conversion was maybe something to hold on to despite it being Funchess's first catch of under 21 yards. [@ right by Fuller]
On that play Denard moved around a bit and fired a hard, low ball at the sticks. That was either a crappy throw or a great pass to keep it away from defenders; either way it was a tough, tough ball to dig out, especially when you're 6'5". Funchess had no problem. Give him hands to go with that frame and he doesn't have to add much weight—if any—to be a crippling matchup. If you've got a two-TE set out there the defense is either going nickel and giving Funchess someone he won't have much issue blocking or conceding the LB matchup that is never going to go well.
The wide receiver corps in general: hurray? Other than some of the guys being little buggers who are easy to overthrow, I think Denard's targets are way less of a concern than we thought they'd be at the beginning of the season. Funchess is a big part of that. Also coming through: Devin Gardner, who is looking downright comfortable three weeks in, and Drew Dileo, who may not be much to look at—he gets called the "white receiver" by his teammates, except he doesn't—but will snag that bullet you put too far in front of or behind him no problem.
Dileo's big reception was reminiscent of the key late crossing route he snagged against Ohio State, and twice this year he's kept his feet after tough catches for big hunks of YAC. He's a nice option to have.
Strength of competition disclaimers apply, but would you swap Michigan's WR/TEs for Notre Dame's? Maybe, but it's debatable. The Irish are running out versions of Jeremy Jackson (John Goodman) and Drew Dileo (the Toma kid), and Michigan's running out a guy who hopes to be Tyler Eifert (but fast!). How about Michigan State's receivers? No way. Ohio State's? Ask again later. I'll take that for a group that was supposed to be a weak point of the team.
One downer event here was Jerald Robinson not catching a 40-some yard TD pass that was in his hands. Before that he complicated matters by doing a 360 with the ball in the air—never good. If he'd just located the thing properly he could have used his body to separate from the DB and possibly have prevented the rake-out that occurred.
Oh, wait, right, the other thing.
Also a downer. The pick-six. Here's an endzone view:
That's a bad throw to a guy who was kind of open, but Jeremy Jackson being slow contributed a lot, too. He makes that post cut threat. The safety hardly reacts, then he jumps the out when Jackson rounds it off to the outside. That INT reminded me of Countess jumping a Jackson route in the spring game. Without any fear of being beat deep, that was easy pickings. Here you've got a UMass corner in straight man to man against a guy who threatens to go up the middle of the field by himself and still no separation.
I noticed something similar in the Air Force game when a heavily-pressured Denard fired one out to Jackson on third and long. Jackson had a shot to make the catch and could not, but wouldn't have gotten the first down anyway. Dileo was running the same route on the opposite side of the screen and had enough separation for some nice YAC. The smaller guys are harder to hit but they get away from opponents a lot more easily.
(Yeah, Denard has a couple other guys open here. He's also got an unblocked guy in his face and a player in man to man who should be able to get separation. It's not the decision but a combination of the throw and the route that are problems. I'm guessing Denard is repeating what Borges says here:
"It was a good read, just a bad throw," Robinson said.
The bu—LAZER screen. Michigan threw a couple of them. They gained nice yardage, because they always do. Borges has renamed it the LAZER(!) screen—the Z, I feel, is implied—and will hopefully swallow his pride long enough to test it out against Notre Dame. The Irish got smoked on all manner of WR screens against Purdue and it was only Zeke Motta making a great play that held down MSU's attempt.
MSU does not have a Gallon, and with Slaughter out Motta is either going to be in center field or Notre Dame will be rolling with a redshirt freshman who played WR last year as the last line of defense. Here's hoping the new nomenclature allows Borges to go after ND's inexperienced CBs and their tackling early and often.
TURNOVERS! Ain't got none. Problem? Eh. Most of Michigan's first two games were spent defending all of the runs, and the third did not feature many defensive plays at all. Opponents have fumbled seven times, but Michigan's only recovered two. One was Hagerup beaning the returner in the head, the other the meaningless one at the end of the half. Michigan has recovered two of seven fumbles on D and both of their offensive fumbles. So, like … about half.
Oh, that's too small of a sample size, you say? I hate you so much.
The real turnover concern. If Michigan can't get pressure on the QB, they will suffer a decline in fumbles and ill-advised passes generated, and without Mike Martin and RVB that seems a virtual certainty unless Clark busts out enormously. Save us, Mattison zone blitz machine.
Cooper Barton. …probably shouldn't have gotten a bigger cheer than Ron Kramer. Priorities, people. Now we're just waiting for him to release a song on Youtube ("Michigannnn, Michigannnnn, gotta get down on Michigannnnnnnn") they'll play every game.
But he is cute!
Seriously. That is a cute five year old. Someone cast him as a gnome in something. Preferably something in which gnomes make no sense, like the next Fast and the Furious movie.
But at least there's a hole. Second straight week we were mercifully without "In The Big House." I'd crumble to my knees in thankfulness if there wasn't a small child in front of me who would kick me in the face as a result.
Heiko? This is not professional. BUT IT IS AWESOME
(This is not actually Heiko. Obviously.)
Kramer jersey. Giving it to Moore [@ right by Fuller] clears up a lot of things: they're just going to hand them out to people, they're not going to make sure they're stars, and anyone can get them. I'm not even sure they'll make sure they're around every year now, but I'd guess once the jersey is vacated someone will hop on it. I'd bet Butt or Hill is wearing #87 next year.
I do wish those patches were a little less busy. Last name, years present, those things better, no border. /boom runway'd.
There are other players. Michigan's still struggling to make their video boards not useless hunks of metal that annoy you with any advertisements they think they can get away with. To date this has been a struggle, but they took a big step forward last week by telling the goof running the replays to zoom out so you could see more than the texture of the ball. I have no idea when they made this change because I didn't even bother to look at the replay board until the second half, so well have they trained me to believe that there is nothing of use on it.
There is no middle ground between nothing and everything. Spartan Stadium put their meat on the table with scoreboards BIGGER and MORE POWERFUL than Michigan Stadium's. Reviews:
You Know What Would Look Really Sweet On The Scoreboards??
Some f---ing statistics. 5,412 square feet of scoreboard and you can't put any kind of statistics up at any point??? I literally never saw any stats at all the entire night. Hell, with our anemic offense, you only would have needed about 10 square feet for our stats. I'm glad to see that Huntington, Pepsi, GMC, Fly Lansing, and every other f---ing company in this damn state is sponsoring us, but I feel like it wouldn't be too much to ask to set aside some room on the ribbon to put stats up. There were points that the sponsor area on the scoreboard just had the MSU logo or some little design. I don't know why you can't put some stats up at that point. …
That just really annoyed me and I'm just in a bad mood. Might already be a thread on this. Didn't look. Don't care.
The only thing preventing Dave Brandon from doing this is the threat of outright revolt in the fanbase. That's something he's directly stated multiple times in the pass. He's already fitting advertising in anywhere he can. The poles outside the sections went from vaguely-plausible-here-is-our-Stubhub-partnership ads to flat-out Consumer's Power, Whichever Bank is the Sponsor Now things.
It's a slippery slope and any relaxation in the posture will result in the kind of stuff described in the blockquoute above. Remain strong, my people.
Hype videos. They're missing something this year. I really liked the last couple years with the people saying the things; now there are no people saying the things. Probably too late this year, but for 2013 how about something based around the famous Yost quote the HSR deploys on its sidebar?
"But do let me reiterate the spirit of Michigan. It is based upon a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways; an enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan men to spread the gospel of their university to the world's distant outposts; a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours."
--Fielding H. Yost upon his retirement as Michigan's athletic director in 1942.
Maybe you need to tighten it up a little, sure.
Throw that in the mix with last year's "Team, Championships, Heismans" thing and Bo's The Team The Team The Team speech and you've got a nice rotation.
Inside the Boxscore resolves a mystery anyone watching at home experienced:
During one random play in the game, two M defenders ended up hitting the UMass ballcarrier at the same time, from opposite sides. The B1G Network announcer called this a “Malachi Crunch.” There’s nothing like B1G announcers breaking out a 36 year old reference to describe a play. For those still in college reading this diary, the “Malachi Crunch” refers to a demolition derby move employed by the Malachi brothers against Pinky Tuscadero, as shown in a three-part 1976 episode of Happy Days. Fonzi risked his life to rescue Pinky. Then, he baited the Malachi Brothers into trying the move on him. He moved his car at the last moment, causing the Brothers to Crunch themselves. I think providing you with this bit of worthless trivia is entirely consistent with my avatar.
Hawthorne(!) was our leading tackler.
Will Hagerup - This guy is back and better than ever. I must have re-watched the 70-yard-in-the-air blast off the facemask of befuddled UMass return man 7 times minimum. Punts like that could be game-changers going forward.
Robinson threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns Saturday during No. 17 Michigan's 63-10 win over Massachusetts, passing both Brady and Harbaugh on the school's all-time list to move into fifth place overall.
In addition, he's now just 91 total yards shy of passing Henne and becoming Michigan's all-time leader in career total offense.
"To be honest with you," Robinson said after the game. "The only thing I think about is winning, and coming out and being accountable for my team.
Robinson has now thrown for 5,630 yards in his four-year career, and is 208 shy of Todd Collins for fourth all-time. He's also racked up 9,210 total yards with both his feet and his arm, just 91 shy of Henne's all-time mark.
The Daily on Cooper's day out. Vincent Goodwill at the news has a novel take on things: Denard is too important. Meinke is like "how does Michigan use Denard less" and I'm like "isn't it clear that's never happening by now?"
The Daily on the band.
Blog stuff and stuff. Hinton finds an excellent picture of a terrified umpire:
I have no idea where this comes from
Hinton's survey of the CFB landscape is heavy on the Big Ten. We're not good!
Outside of Northwestern's 3-0 run in the Smartypants Series, Big Ten teams are 1-8 against their peer group, before accounting for other marks of shame like Minnesota's overtime escape from UNLV, Wisconsin's ongoing struggles with the likes of Northern Iowa and Utah State (see below) and Penn State's loss to Ohio U. of Ohio. Even the apparent bellwether, Ohio State – setting aside the fact that the apparent bellwether is coming off a 6-7 record in 2011 and is ineligible for the conference championship under a first-year coach –legitimately struggled Saturday to put away Cal at home. That still stands along with Michigan State's win over Boise State as the most valuable non-conference skins on Jim Delany's wall, and unless Michigan delivers another dagger to Notre Dame's fragile psyche next week in South Bend, it will have to hold up until the bowl season. Who's looking forward to that?
The prize for winning the conference now appears to be an execution at the hands of Oregon, USC, or Stanford in Pasadena.
MVictors is calling Brandon "#1000SSS" for some reason:
Old 98?: Speaking of Legends and #1000SSS…while Tom Harmon is listed on the game tickets to be honored October 20th before the Michigan State game there has been no announcement of any formal plan to honor the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner. My understanding is that it’s not dead yet and U-M is still trying to talk to the family. Stay tuned.
My ask: if we don’t honor Harmon, how about honoring Willis Ward on that day, the 78th anniversary of the fateful Georgia Tech game?
Oh by the way, f*** you guys. UMass running back Michael Cox, who played for Michigan from 2008-2011, had a pretty solid game for the Minutemen. He ended with 18 carries for 76 yards (4.2 yards per carry) behind a bad offensive line with not much of an aerial attack. There were a couple plays where he ran east-and-west when there was no hole, losing a chunk of yards. But he had some impressive runs against a Michigan defense that should have been able to clamp down on the running game. I never really thought Cox was a superstar, but I did think that he deserved a shot to play when the aforementioned Smith was being used as a feature back. The knocks on him were always fumbling (he never fumbled at Michigan, though there was a botched exchange in this game), learning the playbook (I didn't see any missed assignments in this game), and running east-west too much (perhaps a fair criticism).
Everyone knew that was coming. I don't necessarily disagree, but the guy just reverses field all the time, and this has to drive coaches nuts.
Photos from Maize and Blue Nation. Here's Cox saying hi postgame:
UMGoBlue also has a gallery.
Ordinary is underrated. Seriously. Christianity calls any of its non holiday seasons "Ordinary Time" after all. But, if we have learned nothing else from our social media revolution, it's that there is a certain beauty and joy in the every day, in the expected, in the run of the mill. That is, as Ann Howard Creel put it, the Magic of Ordinary Days.
|Roy Roundtree||Sr.*||Devin Gardner||So.*||Jeremy Gallon||Jr.*||Brandon Moore||Sr.*|
|Jeremy Jackson||Jr.||Jerald Robinson||So.*||Drew Dileo||Jr.*||AJ Williams||Fr.|
|Amara Darboh||Fr.||Ricardo Miller||So.*||--||--||Devin Funchess||Fr.|
This bit could be better. Roy Roundtree suffered more than anyone in the transition from the spread 'n' shred to the spread 'n' pasted-on-West-Coast-stuff, plummeting from 72 catches to 19. Notre Dame and Sugar Bowl savior Junior Hemingway is off to NFL practice squads as a seventh-round pick; following him out the door are Martavious Odoms (replaceable) and Kevin Koger (uh…).
In their stead Michigan will field a forest of unproven guys with limited upside, freshmen, their backup quarterback, and Jerald Robinson, the one vague hope for a high quality downfield threat who is not the backup quarterback.
It should be noted that Michigan is running the opposite of the Holgorsen style "you came here an X, you learned it in three days, you repeated it 60 times, you are forever an X" specialization offense. Jeff Hecklinski said as much last year…
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
…and the frequent deployment of Junior Hemingway in the slot and Jeremy Gallon outside confirmed that over the course of the year. Therefore "slot" is used to denote the player who is going to get all the wide receiver screens, which will never be bubble screens.
Assertion: Junior Hemingway was the most valuable Michigan wide receiver since Braylon Edwards. Hemingway may not have been as good as Mario Manningham or even Adrian Arrington, but imagining last year without his ability to rise from a thicket of hands to snag "no no no no no no YESSSSSSSS" touchdowns is not a pleasant exercise. He is the undisputed king of yards per target since 2005. He was important.
Unfortunately, Hemingway's gone. Left behind is the mismatched collection of runty Rodriguez slot receivers, Rodriguez leapers who run like hobbled ducks, and… maybe Devin Gardner. Definitely Devin Gardner.
Aw, hell, I should probably start off talking about Roundtree and stuff but everyone wants to know about Gardner.
Yeah, man, he's going to play. Unless Jerald Robinson delivers on the perpetual low-level hype, no one else on the roster comes close to Gardner's combination of size, leaping ability, and speed. At the very least he'll frequently attempt the Terrelle Pryor "oops I'm huge" redzone fade…
…and it's hard to see him not being more than that given the alternatives. Gardner played exclusively at wide receiver at the Mott open practice, and with the first team. I've heard from multiple source since: that's no smokescreen.
While no one knows how this will go, the steady drumbeat of hype from players is encouraging. It took about all of a dozen spring practices for reports like this to reach my ears:
Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands."
Similar reports popped up on the premium sites, and when fall camp started and everyone asked anyone in front of the mic about the possibility, his teammates said "dang." Kovacs:
"He's a great athlete, I feel like he could play anywhere and he could probably take my spot if he tried," Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "He's a natural athlete, and if they play him at receiver, I'm sure he'll be pretty good.
"Wherever he plays, he's going to make big plays."
"When he gets out to receiver, you think he's a receiver," Robinson said. "He looks like he's been playing there for years."
And then there's this extremely reliable and not all dated video of Gardner screwing around at WR as a high school kid:
That's the ticket, man. They might have to protect him from getting jammed, but that's not too hard: line him up off the LOS, possibly in those stack formations, and there you go. Then it's about running the routes and catching the ball.
The possibility of a "devin gardner dunked on tacopants" tag and a paucity of options to fill the Junior Hemingway role that bailed the offense out time and again last year will see Gardner on the field. It may be sparingly at first, but if it's crunch time against Alabama do you want him on the bench?
Attempting to predict what happens here is very difficult, but I'm betting Gardner is one of four players approximately level on catches and yards at the end of the year, with no true star player. The upside is tantalizing, though, and your best hope for an offense that scorches both ground and sky. Devin Gardner, you've been X-factor'd.
[hit THE JUMP to read up on Roundtree, Gallon, and company.]
Sophomore Thomas Rawls is making a push for more carries this fall.
This Saturday marks the Spring Game, when we all watch a glorified scrimmage and make snap judgments like "Mark Moundros is going to start at middle linebacker," and "Tate Forcier has the Heisman in his future." (Okay, I admit, I said both of those things, but luckily the evidence has been wiped from the internet.) Nevertheless, it's the only semi-competitive football we'll see until the fall, providing us our lone peek into the progress of the team and the various position battles.
Here's what I'll be hoping to see from the offense on Saturday:
Mediocrity. I know, right? This is actually more of a defensive point, but I want to put this here: in the spring, the defense should be ahead of the offense in terms of installing their schemes and playing cohesively. It's no coincidence that we saw the offense absolutely wreck the defense in the 2009 and 2010 games, then look downright ugly at times in last year's edition. I don't need to tell you how those respective seasons turned out. After just two weeks of practice, the offensive line won't have gelled like they will in the fall, the timing between quarterback and receiver is often a little off, and the playbook is still very much in the installation phase. This plea may fall on deaf ears, but don't freak out if the offense isn't marching up and down the field; in fact, feel free to be a bit encouraged.
Gardner Gardner Gardner. All eyes will be on Devin Gardner, though the odds of the coaches trotting him out at receiver for a nationally-televised scrimmage are somewhere between zero and zero. He will be playing quarterback, however, and it's time to see a big step forward from him in the passing game. Practice accounts have been positive in that regard and it sounds like he's the clear-cut #2 QB ahead of Russell Bellomy, though we'll see how big of a gap there is between those two. If Bellomy looks like a passable second-stringer, you can keep hope alive for some Denard-to-Devin connections in the fall. If not, the coaches may find it too risky to split Gardner out wide.
Bowling Ball Rawls. I was pretty high on Thomas Rawls when he came out of high school, and after a freshman year spent mostly on the bench, he's impressed practice observers with his power as a running back and is making a strong push for the backup job. Vincent Smith will inevitably see snaps on third down, but there's still room for a back to spell Fitzgerald Toussaint on occasion and provide a different look in the backfield. Though Rawls won't make many people miss, he can knock them over, and if he shows that against the first team defense we can start thinking of him as a change-of-pace/short-yardage back. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also drawn praise in the spring, though he'll have to prove he's either a more effective runner than Rawls or a more explosive receiving option than Smith to carve out a role; neither is out of the question given his athleticism.
Number One Target? The general assumption is that Roy Roundtree will be the top receiver this year, but I'm not sold on that. His production dropped dramatically last season as he played more on the outside and was no longer the beneficiary of numerous QB OH NOES as a RichRod slot receiver. Jeremy Gallon flashed a lot of talent last season, and I think he'll be a very capable second option, but he's 5'8". Hope may come in the form of redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who's been lauded as a potential go-to guy this spring despite never recording a collegiate catch. This may be your standard Johnny Sears-type spring hype, but let's withhold judgment until we see him on the field. If nobody looks like a solid #1 option, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Amara Darboh come fall.
My Kingdom for a Tight End. This is the scariest position group on the roster, and that's taking into account the fact that the offensive line has almost no depth. Redshirt senior Brandon Moore is the starter by default; he's had issues with drops in the past, so hope he holds onto the ball if it comes his way. Converted wideout Ricardo Miller will get time as an H-back (the "U" tight end in this offense), and he must prove he can hold up as a blocker if he wants to see much time. Behind them are redshirt senior walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski and converted DE Jordan Paskorz. If this unit isn't a total liability, I'll take it, especially with A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess providing reinforcements in the fall. If they are, Al Borges is going to have to get very creative with his schemes.
O-line Depth: Do We Have Any? The first-team offensive line should be just fine, with projected left guard starter Elliott Mealer the only unknown quantity. Mealer is a redshirt senior who's currently beating out a highly-touted (and massive) redshirt freshman in Chris Bryant, so I'm not too concerned about his ability to fit in. Ricky Barnum has reportedly adjusted well to his new role as starting center; again, I'm optimistic about the first team's ability. PANIC! will set in, however, if a starting lineman goes down, especially a tackle. The second-team line this spring features three(!) walk-ons, and while redshirt sophomore guard Joey Burzynski has impressed practice observers, color me skeptical of any 6'1", 284-pound walk-on being anything but a frightening liability in a game situation. The backup tackles are all walk-ons, at least until Kyle Kalis hits campus for the fall, so expect Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to be encased in bubble wrap until September.
Kickers. Make your field goals, please and thank you. That is all.