Many people are saying things about Michigan's fall camp. Some are coaches, some are insiders, some are men wearing shoes as hats. Some of the things are true, some are maybe a bit misleading, some verge on balderdash. Let's evaluate things that people are saying for truthiness.
The quarterback battle is still up in the air
Thing: Nobody has ventured a strong opinion on Michigan's starter. You occasionally get a weak assertion that someone feels like a leader that's immediately followed with caveats. Tellingly, those assertions are split close to down the middle between the two main contenders.
Thing react: The coaches almost certainly have a good idea who it's going to be, but I believe that the race is tight enough that it might get overturned late and that there's genuine uncertainty amongst insiders. I'd strongly prefer an answer by now. I mean, it'll be fine since Harbaugh, but it's more likely that Michigan has one good QB than two.
Thing: Can't throw a rock on a message board without hitting an insider swearing up and down that Chris Evans is the truth. This has bled through to honest to God press conferences as well.
Thing react: It's tough to find snaps for Evans in an offense that's going to run a metric ton of tight ends onto the field along with Grant Perry and Jabrill Peppers. One thing Evans has going for him is Peppers's tendency to be the best at everything all the time: they'll want to keep his snaps down until they really need him. Evans is another spread H-back type. He'll slot into the Peppers role against the pushovers.
Still feeling like Evans hype is real but a year too early.
Thing: Ben Bredeson has been promoted into a bonafide 50/50 competition for the left tackle spot. Also impossible to throw rock on message board without hitting man enthused about Bredeson. He was the BTN's primary takeaway from their visit to practice, which says something about something.
Thing react: If you made me guess this instant I'd say he's the starting LT. I'm not entirely enthused about this either, but Bredeson is closer to the instant-start five star zone than Mason Cole was. Cole was the #127 recruit on the composite. Bredeson was #39. Bredeson's also 20 pounds heavier than Cole was as a freshman. He was the only OL at the loaded UA game who could annoy Rashan Gary, so maybe he is ready to take on mortals.
Cole managed to survive as a freshman. Bredeson can probably do better. The ceiling is probably something like Erik Magnuson's completely average 2015.
The freshman receivers are good
Thing: Michigan has already lost two of their five WR recruits, but initial reports on the three guys still on campus have been universally positive. All three are reputed to be explosive and dedicated.
None of these guys are going to play much this year, but if one or two emerges even a little bit that will ease everyone's mind about the 2017 receiving corps. I'm not worried. They can find three guys out of Ways, Harris, Perry, and the freshmen.
This defensive line is just… I mean…
Thing: All the usual suspects have come in for praise; the guys who have not been mentioned are guys who are taken for granted as really good players like Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Rashan Gary is mostly described with a blank look, a shake of the head, and a laugh because he is everything he's supposed to be. Chase Winovich and even Matt Godin are getting talked up as contributors.
Thing react: Yes to all of it. Godin suffered late last year because he played next to the third string NT and teams could double him with impunity; before that there was a period where he was keeping guys like Wormley and Henry on the bench to an extent. He's a good player and will see snaps. Charlton should blow up with increased playing time and his still-excellent upside.
Nobody says anything about the linebackers
Thing: Aside from the occasional direct response when a coach gets asked about them at a press conference, there is total radio silence about the inside linebackers. Brown keeps talking about redshirt junior walk-on Mike Wroblewski.
Thing react: I wouldn't take that as a sign either way. Linebacker play is difficult to get a read on. The last four years of Joe Bolden spring hype that petered out in to just okay play have made me suspicious of anything people say in this department.
One glance at the depth chart is enough to see that Wroblewski is going to play some. After the starters there is very little aside from freshmen. Devin Bush will play; Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil are both very raw. Linebacker has more depth concerns than any position on the roster other than maybe safety.
Thing: David Long is very fast and takes notes and is Jehu Chesson, cornerback edition.
Thing react: If Long remains healthy he is a lock. He's going to play this year and start in 2017 and that's going to be very little dropoff from Jourdan Lewis. Maybe not immediately, but by the time he's a junior definitely.
Backup safeties can play
Thing: Praise all available deities. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God seems to be focusing on receivers who might get moved to safety these days—in the last year he's hewed down Brian Cole, Brad Hawkins, and Ahmir Mitchell—and spared the actual DBs. As long as we're keeping Chris Evans on offense that trend can continue.
Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson are both getting plugged as definite contributors this year and solid replacements down the line. Neither is much of a surprise—Kinnel had a strong spring and Hudson is our favorite non-Gary recruit in this class—but not having either guy derailed is important for 2016 and critical for beyond. Josh Metellus has even come in for the occasional mention; hitting on him would be very nice.
Thing react: I expected to hear these things, but actually hearing them is a step on the road to having a functioning secondary this year.
Most of these things are about 2017 more than 2016
Thing: The camp chatter glosses over big swathes of the team because you don't need to be told about them.
Thing react: Gonna be a good year.
[I sat down shortly after the start of Mattison's roundtable.]
"Watching them this summer, you know, we're not allowed to be around them but I'm hearing what they've done and they've really taken care of business. They've worked really hard this summer, which shows that they have the same goals for their group as we do."
How many different places are you going to use Taco, or are you going to center in on one spot for him? And talk about what he brings to the table.
"The entire group of guys by their positions, tackle and nose, end is called 'end' or 'anchor', those are the two outside guys, they know that they have to know both positions. The reason for that is teams that trade the tight end, when you're an end you become an anchor, anchor becomes an end, that kind of thing, nose and tackle—and it helps us with our rotation. We've found this out over the years and it's happened more and more—teams that run spread offense, really one of the reasons they do that is if you have a really good defensive line or experienced defensive line, they try to wear them out, they try to get that defensive line to not have the impact that it would have in a game by taking a little bit of their gas away. So we want to have the ability to plug a lot of guys into different positions.
"Also I think whenever you are at a position and you know the other positions, you know better how to play it. I think the days are over where 'I am a this position and that's all I do,' and you're going to get in trouble doing that because all of a sudden somebody goes down or gets nicked up and you need to take the next-best guy and put him in somewhere. Experience helps you with that. These kids have heard the same techniques, the same expectations for three and four years, it's easy for them to slip into another position."
And then Taco, talk about...
"Taco will start out—he played both the anchor and the end, but we'll play him more as the open-side end this year. With him playing that position will be Chase Winovich. Chase has showed some great things this spring, having never played the position, but he's a young man that we're looking for—he's got a lot of things going for him. He's very aggressive, very fast for his size, he's gotten bigger, and that gives us the two that you're looking for, at least, at that position."
And Taco, talk about his contributions, speed and size, what he brings...
"Taco's got great leverage. He's a six-foot-five guy, so he's got long leverage, which allows you to keep separation. He plays very physical. He can run. He's an athlete, he was an outstanding basketball player. And he's got great experience now. He's played a lot of football since he's been here and now I think he really feels about about—you know, he's ready to really go."
[Hit THE JUMP for Mattison answering many questions that aren't Taco talk-abouts.]
It lives part II! When Homesure Lending sponsored these posts, Matt admonished me that his sponsorship was contingent on me actually doing all of them. So, yeah, next time you see him buy him a beer and get a mortgage. Matt just pinged me in case a refi made sense, demonstrating that 1) he's always on the lookout if he can save you money and 2) rates must be even more absurdly low than they were a couple years ago.
Formation notes: Michigan spent almost the entire game in nickel, as you would expect against a spread. There were only a few plays on which they deployed odd formations. Here RJS is a standup DT in a dime package on third and eleven:
This was "dime standup DT," because sometimes obvious is obvious. Michigan also had a couple plays where they walked out a bonafide linebacker over WR bunches:
But it was mostly standard stuff as Florida failed to threaten those formations.
Substitution notes: Peppers missed this game with a broken hand. Michigan moved Lewis inside and played Clark and Stribling on the outside. Thomas and Hill rotated at one safety spot next to Wilson. LB was the usual Morgan/Bolden pairing with both guys getting spotted by Gedeon.
DL was variable, with Wormley seeing time at three tech and SDE; Charlton was at WDE and SDE; RJS got a lot of WDE time. Hurst and Henry started at DT and got the bulk of the snaps. Marshall saw some snaps at WDE. Godin and Strobel saw scattered snaps on the interior. Brady Pallante even got a few plays in.
[After THE JUMP: way less data than the offense provided.]
SDE Charlton has been tough to handle [Eric Upchurch]
The most interesting thing about the configuration of the defense thus far is the weakside end. I thought they'd shift Taco Charlton over there and go with a very large and very fierce unit; instead Charlton looks set to start on the strongside and Chase Winovich is a tentative leader on the weakside. Chris Wormley spent most snaps I saw from him at three-tech.
While there's a chance that Michigan reconfigures once Ryan Glasgow gets re-added to the mix, right now it looks like Michigan will have a line that looks a lot like a traditional 4-3 under line instead of the mondo unit they could have had. One man's current guess at what a depth chart looks like in fall:
- SDE: Charlton, Gary
- NT: Glasgow, Mone, Hurst
- 3T: Wormley, Godin
- WDE: Winovich, Marshall
If they can get production out of Winovich that's an incredibly deep, veteran, and proven defensive line. If Winovich doesn't work out you can slide Charlton over and still have a great two-deep at the bigger spots, but this is Don Brown's first draft.
So… Winovich. After a rather wasted year spent at h-back he returned to defense, now bulked up to 245 pounds. That's light, but if he can get up to 250 or 255 by fall—reasonable—it's not eye-poppingly so. And WDE does fit his talents. As a recruit he was reputed to be Jake Ryan 2.0, and weakside end is a spot Ryan definitely could have played. Winovich has started gathering some hype himself:
Chase Winovich had himself a day at defensive end. We’d said all week that he was a bigger, stronger version of his former self. Grant Newsome definitely learned that Friday. Winovich won their one on one match-up, and was one of the best edge rushers on the day. On one play he literally flattened Newsome with a bull rush to get into the backfield.
Whether that's hooray Winovich or a collar pull about Newsome is in the eye of the beholder. On the downside from that report: on "more than one occasion" Winovich got edged and lost contain. (Yes, just like Jake Ryan.) He's going to have to cause a lot of havoc to make up for what projects to be a serious downgrade in run efficacy from the much larger and more experienced Charlton.
Meanwhile, apparently all that irrational Bryan Mone hype last year was shared by the coaching staff:
"He was one of our top players last year," Mone said. "We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."
I have many questions about that assertion. They will never be answered.
Mone seems to have picked up where he left off before his injury, but to be honest I didn't see much from him in either practice I observed. I wasn't looking for him much since nose tackle is just about dead last on my list of concerns for 2016; even so last year you saw Maurice Hurst blow through an assortment of players, including Graham Glasgow, en route to spring hype and a very productive season. Mone didn't deliver that when in front of fans. He did draw a tough matchup against Mason Cole, to be fair. I'm still waiting for him to indicate that he's going to be better than Glasgow was a year ago.
That said, Mone was very impressive in Florida:
He was rarely blocked one-on-one, and managed to still be effective against the double team. Twice in the early portion of 11-on-11 action he engaged Ben Braden, tossed the 322 lb. offensive lineman to the side with relative ease, and then got in on the play in the backfield. On another play he split Braden and Mason Cole with great off-snap quickness and nailed Ty Isaac in the backfield.
I'd have liked to see that myself; it's good that someone did.
Godin's playing time might get squeezed [Upchurch]
Chris Wormley is still Chris Wormley. He'll probably be incrementally stronger and better and this will be a very good thing indeed. Matt Godin had an impressive spring game, blowing through a number of second-string OL. I thought he'd be a better fit at SDE, where he was on relatively level footing with Wormley early last season, than three-tech but Michigan looks set to play him on the interior. That might make it tough for him to get a lot of time—he is not likely to pass any of the other four DTs. The current Taco/Winovich DE setup steps on his toes more than anyone else.
Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones played a lot as DEs on the white team and mostly got beat up. That's not a huge surprise since Kemp is a freshman and Jones is still listed at 222 pounds on the (possibly outdated) roster. I wouldn't expect either to break through this year.
McCray is a thumper [Upchurch]
Mike McCray is obviously the story of the spring here, and it was appropriate that he was one of the main reasons his team stuffed Henry Poggi on the goal line to end the Spring Game. McCray brings a load. At Ford Field he hammered a number of lead blocks like James Ross playing a Penn State OL. He is a tough customer.
What remains to be seen is whether he's a two-down backer or if he's fast enough to be an asset in coverage. Noises coming out of practice are positive. Per Lorenz Michigan is "quietly excited and optimistic"; Webb observed him have a lights out practice down in Florida:
Early in 11-on-11 action he met Ty Isaac in the hole and brought him down for no gain. A few plays later he showed nice feel in coverage and would have de-cleated Jack Wangler on a crossing pattern. His best play came later on in the practice when he timed a blitz perfectly and tagged Kareem Walker in the backfield.
While McCray ended up chasing a lot of completed mesh routes in the spring game I wouldn't read too much into that: mesh is designed to hang up man-to-man defenders trying to cover those drag routes. It did so with McCray. I'm assuming Michigan has better answers for mesh that they declined to show the public.
McCray did get juked by O'Korn on the final touchdown, but he was in a ton of space and did force the play back to his help. That help did not arrive in time. Ideally you get an open-field tackle like those Delano Hill turned in a couple times last year, but failing that McCray at least mitigated damage insofar as that was possible.
Ben Gedeon remains just as much of a default starter as he was before the spring. Harbaugh is saying all the right things about him, calling him a "stud" amongst other praise. When you've got a guy who hasn't quite established himself but will start because there are no other options save freshmen your floor can be very low—Johnny Sears is the canonical example. There was never going to be a way for Gedeon to disprove that this spring.
At least we have seen enough of Gedeon to estimate that he'll be all right—he was more or less a starter for a game in the middle of the season when Michigan was suffering through their ridiculous targeting call period, and he did fine. As long as he doesn't run upfield of blocks I'm good.
McCray's emergence allows the Devin Bush Jr project to have a more reasonable timeframe. Going into spring everyone was assuming he'd end up starting out of necessity; exiting it he's probably in the same position Gedeon was last year: a rotation player who spots both starters. That's still not ideal, but neither is it starting a freshman. Bush didn't generate a ton of buzz other than the occasional mention of a big hit and he didn't leap out at me. He was of course victimized by Ty Wheatley on that one play, but when you force a one-handed attempt to catch a pass you've done your job.
Noah Furbush did not play in the spring game, which is unfortunate since he came in for a reasonable amount of hype himself as Jabrill Peppers's main competition at SAM. Sam related that Harbaugh "loves" Furbush's attitude and general guy-ness, and he did have a number of impressive special teams plays a year ago. Obviously Furbush and Peppers are not particularly similar players—Furbush coming into his own would allow Michigan to move Peppers around.
Jared Wangler was out with a meniscus injury.
Thomas is fast [Bryan Fuller]
Another reason I wouldn't read too much into the crossing routes that were wide open all day: somehow the top six defensive backs* all ended up on the white team, and after the opening series we saw little of Lewis and Stribling. Victims on the crossing routes were often walk-ons.
Most downfield passes were attempted against guys who don't project to see the field much this year. Ken Stross was this year's version of Norfleet: a converted WR who gets bombed all day.
There were a couple of plays of note for projected contributors, this one the most impressive:
Dymonte Thomas came from the dead center of the field to get over the top of a reasonably well-thrown ball near the back corner of the endzone. He took off as soon as Morris committed to one side of the field, which is encouraging.
Jarrod Wilson, blessed be his boring name, is not making that play. I can't imagine many people do. If Thomas can reliably execute his assignments he has the potential to be something Michigan hasn't seen since Marcus Ray**: a bonafide playmaking safety.
The other play of note was discussed yesterday when we talked about Drake Harris and can be seen briefly at the 52 second mark of the above highlights: Jeremy Clark with fantastic coverage on Harris. I don't doubt that Channing Stribling's had an impressive spring, especially since he got the sure-starter yoink on Friday and this vote of confidence from Harbaugh…
“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone.:"
…but at Ford Field and the Spring Game it's been Jeremy Clark who looks like the guy.
Per Webb, down in Florida it was the other way, with Stribling on fire:
Channing Stribling was given the game ball by Jim Harbaugh after practice #4 and with good reason. … His route recognition led to numerous plays including two interceptions. His first pick came while covering Drake Harris and seemed to run the pattern better than his offensive counterpart before jumping it and intercepting the ball. He nearly picked off another pass… a deep out to Harris… where he also seem to run that route better than Harris also before knocking it away. His second interception occurred when the Sean McKeon beat Noah Furbush down the seam and Stribling slid over the top to help, skied for the ball, and picked it off.
I expect that competition to be hot and heavy this fall. TBH I'd be perfectly happy with another year just like the one Clark turned in, minus some of the absurdly bad luck he suffered. For Stribling to surge past is a potentially excellent sign.
Kinnel is hugely important for 2017 [Upchurch]
Tyree Kinnel was the other name of note. He turned in a pick-six at Ford Field and looked very comfortable in a box safety role in the spring game. Despite that, Harbaugh made it clear that the two starters have "nobody really pushing them right now."
*[minus Peppers, if he's more of a linebacker.]
**[Ernest Shazor's candidacy here was rejected since he made as many plays for the opposition as his own team. ]
Michigan didn't run any full-go, but there was the occasional thing of note:
- At Ford Field it looked like Michigan was trying to find folks other than Peppers to take kickoffs back. They can get similar production from some of their other fast guys and lighten the load on their two-way star.
- They did practice both NFL and spread punting; in the game they went entirely spread.
- Kenny Allen had a booming conventional punt. This does not surprise since he's been blasting them in practice for years. It is unlikely he has the precision that Blake O'Neill did but if Michigan needs to send it 60 yards he's more than capable.
- Andrew David has been tasked with rugby punting. He had a pooch punt that was relatively effective.
- Can't judge return units since nothing was full contact.
- Chris Partridge appears to be the main guy on special teams, with little help from other people, at least on the practice field.
- David was shaky on field goals.
I expect Allen to take the large bulk of the kicking jobs. Surprise!
I guess I need to include a SPOILER ALERT for those who weren't able to watch the live stream. If for some reason you want the ending of the Spring Game to be a mystery, and yet you still are on this blog, stop reading now. The full game re-airs at 9:30 on BTN.
Ty Isaac had the best night among the RBs. [Eric Upchurch]
The Maize team prevailed, 14-13, after a stunningly exciting finish for a Spring Game. After John O'Korn juked Mike McCray to cap off an impressive last-gasp drive for the Blue team, but the Maize defense stuffed a fullback dive by Henry Poggi on the ensuing two-point attempt to preserve victory. Your player of the game is Wyatt Shallman. I require no further justification than this:
I won't bother with a full recap, because SPRING GAME, but here are a few players on each side of the ball that stood out to me on first viewing—it was tough to follow line play from the box, so this is mostly going to focus on the skill positions and the back seven.
John O'Korn was at his best when on the move. [Upchurch]
Ty Isaac tallied 78 yards on ten carries, breaking off a few big runs on a night when none of the other tailbacks found much room to operate behind split-squad offensive lines. He ran patiently and chose the right moments to bounce runs outside. He's a major big-play threat with his speed/size combo.
The quarterbacks were steady, which is about all you can ask in a Spring Game, especially since the O-lines—which split starters between the two squads—were inconsistent in protection. Wilton Speight hit 5/6 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown; he added a six-yard rushing touchdown on a waggle and gained a first down with a 13-yard scramble.
John O'Korn didn't put up as pretty of a passing line, completing 6/14 passes for 93 yards, but he rushed for 28 yards and the late touchdown on seven carries. O'Korn did a nice job of buying time by breaking the pocket and picking his spots to scramble downfield. He also avoided any major mistakes. Shane Morris had an up-and-down showing at quarterback, hitting some nice throws but also hucking a pick to Dymonte Thomas in the end zone (more on that later) when he had a receiver open underneath for a first down. Morris moonlighted at receiver and picked up a 25-yard gain on the final drive when he got wide open on a mesh concept.
With Jehu Chesson out and Amara Darboh taking it easy, Grant Perry played the role of #1 receiver for the Maize squad and aquitted himself well. He beat a defender with a nice deep route that left Speight plenty of room on the sideline, then made an impressive catch—unfortunately, Speight's throw took him out of bounds. He had three actual catches for 30 yards; the reserve corners had a tough time sticking with him on intermediate routes.
TJ Wheatley had a drop over the middle, but he later hauled in a nine-yard catch and had impressive blocks against both Mike McCray and Jabrill Peppers(!) to spring Isaac for big gains. The hype train continues unabated. Ian Bunting looked pretty athletic on a 49-yard jaunt down the sideline after his defender got picked on another mesh route. Zach Gentry had a late 19-yard catch, though he's still far from ready to see the field.
Tyree Kinnel played well against both the run and the pass. [Upchurch]
Matt Godin stood out among the defensive linemen who played most of the game, taking advantage of getting lined up across from Juwann Bushell-Beatty—who had a rough go at left guard—to work his way into the backfield consistently. Taco Charlton also deserves a mention for blowing Grant Newsome back a few yards to stuff Isaac's first run; Charlton and Wormley both looked good before exiting early along with several other established starters, including Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis.
I liked what I saw from Mike McCray, who teamed up with Tyree Kinnel for a TFL that forced a Maize punt on a third-and-short run to the outside. Kinnel, meanwhile, looked great; he stuck with his mark in coverage and made a couple stops coming downhill against the run. If Michigan needs to put him out there at safety, he looks ready.
Speaking of safeties, Dymonte Thomas was not boring in the best of ways. On the interception against Morris, he covered a ton of ground to get to a throw intended for Jack Wanger at the back pylon—a perfect throw if Thomas weren't there—then held on after leaping for the pick. I didn't notice any coverage busts from him.
Jeremy Clark doesn't look ready to cede a starting spot to Channing Stribling. He broke up a couple passes, including one after blanketing Wangler on a streak route and forcing him into the sideline; Wangler was so well-covered that he couldn't gain separation even with an obvious push-off.
That's the best I could muster from first viewing in the press box. We'll have a lot more coverage in the week to come.
Hey man you never know when something that looks good is going to suddenly disintegrate into a pile of sawdust or like the Fed is going to say "rates are now a billion percent" so get a mortgage with Matt. I may be overreacting to the content of this post. It's probably going to be fine if you don't refinance or whatever. But it could also not be fine and you could get stuck on the field for ninety mortgages or something.
FORMATION NOTES: When I say "nickel under" I do mean a 4-3 under with nickel personnel.
Bolden is standing up on the LOS as the SAM with Hill filling in as a second ILB. Wilson is off the screen as a very deep S as per usual.
M occasionally tucked a linebacker inside one of their DEs, which is a "bear" front:
Nickel buck denotes the buck LB right behind the nose. This was rare.
Ross got in as a buck and stood up and I'm just pretending he's a DE, okay? That's what I'm pretending.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Michigan spent almost the entire game in a nickel aside from some goal line sets and a few dime packages. With Glasgow out, Hurst started. Strobel was his backup at first. He got two or three stretches of playing time and did poorly. Late Michigan started playing Henry at nose a lot. There was palpable frustration with Hurst on stretch plays. Godin also returned, though he had a very bad day.
Bolden/Morgan at LB except for two drives with Gedeon replacing Bolden and one with Gedeon replacing Morgan.
The secondary saw Thomas start over Hill again. When Thomas was hurt in the first quarter Hill got the bulk of the game. Clark and Stribling are still splitting time but it is increasingly clear that Clark has won the job.
[After THE JUMP: seriously, Kevin Wilson, I hate you]