Notes from Rich Rodriguez's press conference and the first day of spring practice. Follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue) for live updates.
- Injuries: David Molk and Vincent Smith are out for spring with knee injuries. Junior Hemingway and Brandon Herron had recent knee surgeries, hopefully Hemingway will be able to make it back for the end of spring practice. Zac Johnson and Mike Martin are limited (non-contact) for the spring with shoulder injuries.
- Nick Sheridan and Bryan Wright are no longer on the football team. Sheridan wants to go into coaching, but he can't work with the football team now, since he hasn't graduated. Wright's persistent back issues have led him to give up the game, and he's going to graduate and move on.
- Position changes: Cameron Gordon has been moved to safety, as has Teric Jones. This means Troy Woolfolk and Justin Turner will both play corner this spring. There's the potential that one or both of them can move to safety down the road.
- Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are options 1 and 2 at quarterback. When Denard isn't taking snaps, he's too valuable to take off the field, and they'll give him some run at wide receiver (there's enough running back depth that they won't need him there). Devin Gardner has a great work ethic, and he'll be willing to earn any playing time he might get. Rodriguez is glad he could get in for spring, because there's a lot to learn.
- At the running back position, a number of guys are competing with Vincent Smith out for spring practice. Michael Shaw, Mike Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will fill in, along with the two freshmen (Austin White and Stephen Hopkins), and there's a chance that some slot receivers get reps at that position as well.
- The team knows that they always have something to prove. Even if Michigan had performed better on the field in the past two years, there's always something to prove.
- Brendan Gibbons and Will Hagerup were the only two kicking specialists mentioned. Gibbons seems to be the favorite at kicker, and Hagerup won't arrive until fall, but will probably punt.
- Many offensive linemen worked hard to improve their bodies in the off-season, especially the freshmen Quinton Washington, Taylor Lewan, and Michael Schofield. They'll be in the mix for some playing time.
- Elsewhere on the offensive line, Rocko Khoury, Elliott Mealer, and Christian Pace will play center with Molk out for spring. Rodriguez likes to have four guys who can snap the ball. When Molk is healthy in the fall, there's a good chance that he'll be one of the best centers in the Big Ten.
- Brandon Graham will be missed from both a production and leadership standpoint. On the field, Ryan Van Bergen, Greg Banks, Adam Patterson, and even Craig Roh will play his old spot. RVB and Banks will play both inside and outside on the DL. As for leadership, the veterans will have to step up, even though there's a very small group of seniors this year.
- The defense should be able to take a step forward in the second year under the same defensive coordinator. A few schemes will be tweaked, but they'll try to keep them simpler, because there's a good chance some true freshmen will have to fill in this fall. The coaches are going to try for a bigger rotation defensively, so more guys will see the field.
- "Buying in" is not an issue for this team (anymore?), things now come down to a matter of executing properly to improve performance in games.
As for practice, most of the useful information will probably come from the pictures, but a couple quick observations:
- Vincent Smith was wearing a red jersey, but in his football gear. Dave Molk was practicing snaps.
- Nick Sheridan was hanging around watching in street clothes.
- Stephen Hopkins is frickin' huge. That kid will be a tank with the ball in his hands.
- Gardner's throwing motion looks improved from the end of his high school season. Once he is able to get actual coaching, it should continue getting better.
- I thought Christian Pace looked much bigger than he did on Signing Day, though it may have just been the difference in wardrobe (warmups on Signing Day). He didn't even look like an offensive lineman in February.
Apologies if the quality is a little worse than usual; I don't have the mad editing skillz that Paul does.
Basketball Exhibition v. Wayne State. 7PM ET, Crisler Arena. BigTenNetwork.com
After the Wolverines did in John Beilein's second year what they couldn't do in six under Tommy Amaker, expectations for the Michigan basketball team went through the roof. Suddenly, this is a tournament team. Suddenly, it's the #15 team in the country.
At his latest press conference Beilein joked about not being on the wall mural in the Junge Family Champions Center like Rodriguez is. Maybe he should be. If last year's scrappy group started 2 different walk-ons during the year, and made it to the second round, what can this year's edition pull off?
Though Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak are no longer freshmen, the team still will rely on first year players. Freshman Darius Morris may start at point guard. "His head's swimming like any other freshman," Beilein said, "It would be, I'm sure, what you go through in football when it's a quarterback that's a freshman. Boy, it's really hard."
"He's a good passer and he can score," said junior forward Manny Harris. He also likes defending—maybe a little too much, as he can get into foul trouble.
Classmate Matt Vogrich is known as a shooter, but he has to adjust to the athleticism and size of college defenders. "Being open in high school is a whole lot different than being open in college," he said. Sophomore forward Zack Novak praises his young teammate, saying "Yeah, he can shoot it. There's definitely no question about it. He can really shoot."
Forward Blake McLimans will add some serious size to the frontcourt, at 6-10. As the 11th or 12th player on the bench, he doesn't get as many practice reps as the rest of the team and will probably redshirt.
The other scholarship member of the recruiting class, Jordan Morgan, won't even be able to run full-court as he's coming off a knee surgery. He may not hit the court for Michigan this fall. "If there's any question in my mind, we will redshirt until we burn it," Beilein said, "You can't go the other way now." If Morgan can get healthy by the time the season begins in earnest, he may be a contributor.
Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Anthony Wright, and Zack Gibson are all back in the maize-and-blue jerseys. The first three are only sophomores, and are expected to take a big leap forward in year 2. "You just feel so much more comfortable, knowing what to expect," says Novak. Novak, by the way, looks like a completely different player, replacing extra weight on his body with muscle.
This team will look different than last year's. There are more talented—though not as gritty—options at point guard, and DeShawn Sims won't have to spend the entire season toiling away against the Dallas Lauderdales of the world with Ben Cronin and Zack Gibson around to take some of the burden at center. In what is probably the last season for both Sims and Manny Harris in Ann Arbor, they are the team's leaders. "I mean everyone talks and helps," says Harris, "It ain't like we're the two biggest talkers on the team." Like many great leaders, they prefer to lead by example.
(One grim note: Harris is struggling with a hamstring injury. He doesn't participate in team sprints, and doesn't quite have the explosive moves that he's become known for.)
The season kicks off tonight against Wayne State in an exhibition game at Crisler Arena. It's not unheard of for Division 2 squads to pull off the big upset. Just this week, Lemoyne College knocked off Syracuse. Beilein, a former Dolphins coach, received a text that read "Finally Lemoyne has a good coach."
Joking aside, the Wolverines aren't taking Wayne State lightly. "We do not want to lose this game now," said Beilein, "We're trying to get 9 or 10 guys ready for our first game, which is in a week, so we'll be treating this like a game-like situation, as will Wayne State."
"My expectation for the team is that we're better than a lot of people think we are," says DeShawn Sims, "It's all about winning right now. Everything is about winning." Every great journey starts with a first step. For the 2009-10 Wolverine basketball team, that step comes tonight.
- Brandon Minor has practiced more this week than he has any other week in more than a month. Hopefully that means he'll be healthy enough on Saturday to play. The team needs the element of downhill running that he provides. Carlos Brown has been limited with tendinitis. Mike Shaw is practicing this week and should be ready to play, after missing last week with a sprained knee.
- Patrick Omameh has been playing at right guard, with Mark Huyge at right tackle. Perry Dorrestein has been limited with a back strain. The Big Ten made a statement to Rodriguez that Mark Ortmann will not be suspended for this week's game.
- Martavious Odoms practiced yesterday and will today in a limited fashion. He's still day-to-day, and they won't be sure until Saturday if Martavious can play.
- Kevin Leach is still starting at MLB. Obi Ezeh is still in the mix, and hasn't let his decreased playing time affect his desire to prepare for games.
- There's a goal to get more sacks, and more pressure will lead to more turnovers. 3 games without forcing a turnover is really bad. The defense will improve when guys feel comfortable in their roles, and can simply react instead of thinking. Despite that, there must be enough scheming that the offense doesn't know what they'll do every play. Players need to be confident enough to make plays, and not get too down on themselves if they miss one.
- In-season recruiting is tougher without a be week, because the coaches won't have an oportunity to travel to recruits' games, or they might risk missing a Saturday noon game. It's important to get an early start to recruiting (offering juniors, etc.), because it's tougher to recruit in-season, and because prospects are committing to schools earlier in the process.
- Brandon Graham is a leader of the team, but he doesn't more leading by example than with his voice. He'll get the guys cranked up before the game. A great example he sets is that when he makes a mistake, he doesn't let his disappointment linger into the next play.
- Yesterday's practice was physical and spirited. The team doesn't have any lingering hangover from the Illinois game. They can't do anything to change the result of that game, and it's time to move on.
- The team isn't "desperate," and Rodriguez doesn't like that term to describe a football team. He'd prefer them to be "hungry," but he wants that whether the team is winning or losing. They should always be hungry. The coaches haven't yet mentioned to the team that the next win is important for bowl eligibility. They'll say something about it, but it's more important to worry about how you're playing at a given time, not any other factors.