Peppers at 10, which seems low.
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]
News bullets and other items:
Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.
What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?
“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”
Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?
“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”
What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?
“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”
They don’t anymore.
“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”
With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?
“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”
Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?
“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
MGoQuestion: Which receivers have impressed you the most since spring started?
“Well, you know, we haven’t had Jehu [Chesson]. Amara [Darboh] has had a very good spring so far. Really working hard at his craft. I mean, just you would think—you know, it felt like he just picked up where he left off against Florida. Grant Perry, same thing. Really good spring so far. Picked up where he left off. Drake Harris had a really good last two days. Had his best day today. Really making some plays with his—we all know he’s a basketball player, right? But he’s shown that ability. And then Ahmir Mitchell’s come in and he’s competing. These guys are supposed to be in high school right now and he’s practicing as hard as he can. And Moe Ways has improved a lot. Moe Ways, I’m not sure I can remember a drop in spring. I think Moe Ways leads us with the least amount of drops, so it’s been a good—you know, those guys have all come in and they’ve all done a nice job coming back and kind of letting us pick up where we left off.”
What kind of things are you able to do with them this year now that you’re not building the foundation like last spring? How much further ahead?
“Yeah, well, we’re a little light on numbers until the next batch comes in in terms of we’ve got four or five guys coming in. So in terms of what we’re doing, we’re just building off of what we did and asking these guys to really push themselves and fight through it and they’ve become really well conditioned, and then you’re able to tweak a route or tweak a release or change some things up. ‘Hey, this is how we did it all of last fall. Here’s you on film’ rather than ‘Here’s Allen Robinson on film’ or ‘Here’s Brandon Marshall on film,’ [it’s] ‘Here’s you on film. How can we make that better?’”
With so few, are you able to do more individual tweaking?
“Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of where we’re at right now is you can really hone in and focus in and spend the time getting Ahmir caught up to speed, time getting Grant ready to play outside and inside, really focusing in on Moe Ways playing both spots on the perimeter and just kind of making those ‘Hey, in one-on-ones, here’s you running the route; here’s you last year running the route. Look at the difference.’”
After what Amara and Jehu gave you last year, what do you still need from a third wide receiver or a fourth wide receiver?
“Um, well, we need more production. We need someone else to be in that range of 40 or 50 catches. We need Amara and Jehu to be in the range of 75 catches. You know, they need to get up and the third receiver then needs to bring his numbers up. Maybe our third receiver had like 20 catches or something. Let’s get to 40. Let’s get to two more first downs a game. You know, give us two more first downs a game. Give us one more explosive play a game. Keep us on the field for one more drive, and then allow us to play with more guys. Let’s play with more receivers, you know, and get more guys ready to go. It’ll be fun to see what these guys can do.”
[After THE JUMP: if you would like to be considered for the starting quarterback position please leave your application at the front desk]
[even his wardrobe has a constraint play]
How do you keep your team from listening too much to all the good things they’ve heard about themselves in the last 48 hours?
“Outstanding game, congratulations, and hard work.”
Jabrill doesn’t play a traditional safety position, and he doesn’t play a traditional cornerback position. Why is that spot that you guys have him at best for him and best for you guys?
“Uh, well, it’s a nickel position. Takes an athlete who’s physical but has the ability to cover receivers in the slot. Can also contribute in the running game. Usually somebody who’s a really good corner and a good safety is ideal for that position. I mean, pretty much every team has that position so no, not inventing anything. It’s looked at as a starting position by just about every defense that plays football.”
You were optimistic about De’Veon’s health the other day. Are you still optimistic? Do you have an updated on De’Veon?
“Yeah, he’s gonna be sore. He’ll be working through the soreness.”
Is it a questionable situation for him Saturday?
“I don’t think we have to do that in college football, do we?”
What’s the diagnosis?
“He’s got something he’s working through.”
Is he still in the boot?
“I haven’t seen him today.”
[After THE JUMP: Philosophizing on polls, talking contact courage, and do fourth and longs exist in Australia?]
Show me the Peppers! [Fuller]
Ace: Aside from the quarterbacks, which position group and specific player will you be keeping the closest eye on during the Spring Game?
Seth: Safety, Peppers.
I have a pretty good idea of what the corners can do—Countess can zone like a boss but isn't sized or speedy enough for lockdown press man—and I can't really tell what happens on the OL or DL without video. Quarterback is missing one or two contenders. Where the slot side safety lines up will tell us how aggressive they think they can get, especially when it's Peppers in that spot.
|My recurring nightmare|
Also I'm anxious to see who among Dymonte, Clark, and Hill can play when Peppers comes down to nickel. Hill has a bad rap in my brain from getting so turned around against Lippett on the TD pass that debarked the end of the game and the beginning of Dantonio's Revenge for Imagined Slights Hour. I hate it when a bad play is what sticks out to me about a guy and I really want to start banking some nice thoughts. Same for Dymonte and Clark. One of those three or Stribling is going to be at least half a starter in the nickel, and if it's Stribling we are back to a nickel who's not a run defender (ie Countess). The floor on this defense is pretty okay; I want to see how high the cathedral can go.
Alex Cook: I feel like this is a somewhat obvious answer, but I'll be focused on our secondary, which projects to be the best unit on the team by a fair amount. The offensive line is compelling for an entirely different reason; I'd like to see some breakout performances on the D-Line; QB is a clear concern, of course; but I'm very excited about the secondary.
Jabrill Peppers is the headliner there and, after a freshman year ruined by injury, Michigan fans surely are going to be thrilled to see him out there. He's probably the best player on the team and -- depending on if he plays on offense / special teams units -- he could be the most important non-quarterback on the team. Beyond Peppers, there's Jourdan Lewis, who's very good in my opinion, locking down one of the corner spots; I'm most optimistic about he and Peppers of anyone on the squad this year. There's Jarrod Wilson, who's unremarkable in the best way possible; there's Blake Countess, who didn't play well after recovering from ACL surgery (but could be in for a rebound season); there's Channing Stribling, who stands out immediately because of his size; Wayne Lyons won't be there, but he could start. There's a lot of depth there and if you're looking for a group to get excited about, watch the secondary.
[After the jump: aggresssssssssssiveeeeeeeeeee]
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: moderate. 1: difficult. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
|Devin Funchess||Jr.||Amara Darboh||So.*||Dennis Norfleet||Jr.||Jake Butt||So.|
|Jehu Chesson||So.*||Freddy Canteen||Fr.||Bo Dever||So.*#||Khalid Hill||Fr.*|
|Da'Mario Jones||So.*||Moe Ways||Fr.||Ross Douglas||Fr.*||--||--|
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
It's not often you lose a guy who broke the single-season receiving record and think that things could get better, but it's not often you come across a guy like Devin Funchess, either. Behind Funchess there's not a whole lot that's proven but there are sufficient numbers and hype to believe that Michigan goes five or six deep in quality options, especially after Jake Butt gets back.
If things break right, this unit could hearken back to the Breaston/Edwards/Avant days where you had the NFL-level ludicrous deep threat, the possession ninja, and the screen merchant all in one receiving corps, getting all mother/maiden/crone in your face. It'll take some luck… but not that much luck.
everybody get up [Fuller]
The charade is over. Devin Funchess is a wide receiver, 100%. Not that you had to be told that after he spent 87% of last year split wide, faking bubble screens and occasionally catching them and oh right running downfield and leaping over dudes. Funchess put his hand in the dirt in passing situations only, and no one has tried to suggest he might do even that much this year.
This is pretty terrific. Michigan had a guy break Braylon Edwards's single-season receiving record and there was still enough left over for Funchess to rake in 49 catches for almost 750 yards. By the Big Ten opener he was just, like, running right by cornerbacks.
At the end of the year Michigan was handing him the ball on end-arounds and watching him nearly break them for touchdowns, if only Devin Gardner could ID the safety he needs to block. Oh, and this!
A man that large should not be able to move that fast. Take it from someone who played against him:
"I can't believe he's that big and that fast. He made us look silly. You can't get around him. He's just such a big body that he's going to block you from making a play on the football. …
"He could be like Calvin Johnson in the red zone. Just throw it up and let him go get it. I bet we see a lot more of that this year."
I didn't say it! I may have thought it, but I didn't say it. I did call him Minitron a few times, and I may have wondered privately about whether Funchess could be, like… him. But naw. I mean, Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 at his NFL draft combine.
Funchess proved last season he's capable of being an elite-level receiver. There were some dropped passes here and there, but his combination of size and speed (he clocked a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash in the spring) remains unmatched on the U-M roster.
FAKE! FAKE, I say! That is not a real thing, because physics. Only… you know, it's only almost impossible. Because Calvin Johnson. And when you watch him go up against top corners like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second round pick last year…
…or Trae Waynes, a projected first rounder this year…
…it's just like… maybe I should make this comparison I should not make. Because he is smoking those dudes. Not every time, because it never happens every time, but enough. A lot. At 6'5".
BUT WHAT ABOUT HANDS, the bits of the internet with short attention spans ask. Okay, yes. The one catch was a late-season spate of dropped balls. He derfed three in the Iowa game alone, greatly contributing to Michigan's inability to move the ball. One of those was a very conspicuous one on a screen, and that is currently playing an outsized role in people's brains. Because the last thing that's happened is the thing that is always going to happen, Funchess now has a rep for having shaky hands. Once you see the first derf it is a natural inclination to start judging harshly, like when he gets hit in the back by Gardner because of a bad blitz pickup.
This is why we track the numbers, and the numbers say Funchess is anything but a problem:
But once you get a reputation in this area people start looking at anything you don't catch as a drop. This is probably one of the plays that stick in skeptics' minds:
That's crazy tough! That's low and behind him and it's only his freaky long arms and Brad Nessler that even give that pass the semblance of a drop.
Until the Iowa game, Funchess's catching ability was unquestioned. Don't let one bad game in the bitter cold overwhelm a large sample size that indicates Funchess's hands are in fact an asset, especially when you consider that the chart above doesn't take the fact that he's 6'5" and can leap over defensive backs into account.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT CALVIN JOHNSON IS A UNIQUE UNREPLICABLE HUMAN WHO IS PROBABLY PART ALIEN AND BITTEN BY A RADIOACTIVE SPIDER, says the tiny bit of the internet with common sense. And… okay, well, yeah. You should never project anything at the extremes of possibility because probability is going to make you pay for that, son.
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
[After THE JUMP: refugees, JUNGLE BEATS, and tiny dancer.]