landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
John Beilein and his assistants met with press today to give the season a final wrap, introduce Bacari Alexander, and look forward to the future. Notes:
John Beilein on Bacari Alexander & the Staff
- Beilein reached out to a few people regarding the coaching vacancy, but Bacari Alexander was the best fit. He's the total package as a teacher of the game. Whenever there are changes on a staff, it's an opportunity to address issues.
- Since Michigan's big men have no game experience, it's important to have their position coach be a teacher of fundamentals.
- As part of the process of interviewing Bacari Alexander, he worked out with Patrick Beilein while the current assistants watched.
- The coaching staff has good chemistry, with all having a familiarity in the Big Ten footprint for recruiting, but also able to recruit nationally. Alexander brings a strong in-state connection.
- Beilein hasn't made a lot of progress on selecting a new administrative assistant (Jerry Dunn left the coaching staff at the same time as John Mahoney), but it's possible that he could be a former coach. There's also a chance some of the responsibilities change between that role and the video coordinator.
- Bacari will have to get in shape to bang with the big guys in practice. He's going to be a hands-on coach. He can help the team increase their physical play when they need it.
- So far, Alexander hasn't had a chance to get into the groove in Ann Arbor. He's still acclimatizing to the new surroundings. It's "exciting" to be a part of the Michigan program.
- Alexander was coached by fellow assistant Mike Jackson when he played at University of Detroit Mercy. Said Alexander: "We've had a lot of good times together, hopefully a lot more."
- Alexander has always enjoyed sweating with the players in practice. He can demonstrate things, instead of just describing them.
- It is both exciting and challenging to have such a young group of big men to coach. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford were specifically mentioned.
- There is a lot of parity nowadays in Division 1 basketball. The mid-majors have good coaches, and veteran mid-major teams can compete with programs that have one-and-done talent.
- There's a lot more information out there about recruiting than there was in Alexander's day. The internet experts aren't always accurate. With the rise of AAU ball, there's less of an emphasis on educating the players.
Beilein on Other Stuff
- Ground will be broken on the new basketball practice facility May 10th. Within 17 months, that project and Crisler upgrades should be in place.
- As Big Ten expansion goes, Beilein doesn't know much about the finances and marketing, but he trusts the university presidents and Jim Delaney to do the right thing for the current Big Ten schools. "If we expand, it's going to be with the right universities."
- The Ohio State loss in the Big Ten Tournament hurt, but nearly every season ends with a loss. The players and coaches need to get over it and move on.
- Manny and DeShawn are still around campus. Both are training very hard to prepare for the next level.
- DeShawn Sims, Anthony Wright, Zack Gibson, and CJ Lee will be graduating this weekend.
- Beilein's nephew, captain Joseph Ludick, is one of the pilots for Marine One, the presidential helicopter. He'll be in Ann Arbor this weekend to fly President Obama.
Rich Rodriguez addressed the media for 20 minutes or so after yesterday's spring game, then a number of players spoke to small groups. Notes:
- Won't answer questions about a resolution to the quarterback situation, and they won't be available to the media. Pleased that the QBs have gotten better. It's nice to have competition, and not have one guy seize the job this early. Denard and Tate have both improved, but they still have more work to do. Devin has learned well, considering he's only been around for 15 practices. The #1 guy may not emerge until after the first game.
- The quarterbacks had a poor day compared to how they've been practicing the rest of the spring. It's OK for the QBs to scramble around, but the coaches don't want them to do that until the initial play breaks down. Still, their offensive creativity and explosion shouldn't be hampered.
- Having a QB competition will continue to elevate those guys. If multiple guys are ready to play in the fall, they'll play. The goal is for the whole team to get better, so the improvement by the quarterbacks is important to that. Denard got the first rep of the game because he's been more consistent over the course of the spring.
- Denard Robinson's grasp of the offense, and recognition of defenses has improved markedly since last year. Understanding the offense is important, but both Denard and Tate Forcier need to get better at reading the defense, now that they are able to execute the offensive plays. Denard's always been able to throw, it's just a matter of making sure his mechanics and reads are consistent. He's still learning the offense, because he's still just a first-year guy. Pat White redshirted his first season, and in that first spring, he was probably about at the same point in his development that Denard is now. He continued progressing, and hopefully all of Michigan's quarterbacks can do that as well. Pat and Denard are similar players, but it's unfair to compare them, because Pat was so good for a while, you can't expect that out of a young guy.
- Today was the first day of the spring that the quarterbacks weren't live. That changes the way they play a bit, and the defense might let up on them a little bit more.
- One of the emphases this spring was limiting turnovers and negative-yardage plays. The spring game was somewhat disappointing in that regard.
- Running backs: There will be more competition in August when everyone is healthy. More than one running back will play in the fall. Mike Shaw and Mike Cox, Stephen Hopkins, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will all be in the mix. Spring has given some new guys a chance to emerge.
- Jeremy Gallon's redshirt year helped him get into good shape. Right now, he's the leader at punt return and kick return, and he'll play in the slot as well as maybe some other places.
- They have more guys who are ready to play at the offensive skills positions. Some of the QBs have a bit of experience, which raises expectations.
- Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield have played pretty well. With Perry Dorrestein injured, they've have opportunities to progress. There are now two additional guys who can get in the rotation, and the coaches want to have more guys ready to play.
- The team wasn't as physical and good at tackling today as they were in other practices, maybe because they couldn't hit the QBs. The scheme was simple today, but fundamentals need to continue improving.
- Troy Woolfolk broke his finger on Thursday, but he'll be fine by fall camp.
- Mike Martin will play noseguard when he returns healthy, but he'll also play other spots on the defensive line. Adam Patterson and Will Campbell will also play "both nose and tackle."
- The kicking game was very uneven today. The situation is still wide open. Brendan Gibbons kicked well today, but Will Hagerup will have the opportunity to win the punting job in the fall. Tate had a good punt, and he's pretty good at it. The other guys practice it a lot more, because Tate has other things to worry about.
- The coaches got some answers this spring, mostly positive. They'd like to have more answers than they got, but most of what they see right now is positive. No negative surprises. Cam Gordon and Mark Moundros were positive surprises after position changes, as was the level of play at cornerback.
- The early enrollees provided some good moments as well. Jerald Robinson and Stephen Hopkins are probably going to get some playing time in the fall. The early enrollees were a little nervous playing in the Big House. It's nice to get those nerves out of the way early. Some of Devin's mistakes may have been due to nerves.
- Team chemistry is really good, and still improving. Players get closer together each day they work.
- The coaches have a week to look back on spring, then they'll hit the road for the Evaluation Period in the recruiting cycle.
- Hopefully in the future, the spring game will continue to grow. The weather wasn't great, but fans still came out. Maybe weather will be better and more fans will come out. Players appreciate the support from the crowd.
- The team has three spring scrimmages, and the Spring Game might not be the most useful for teaching, it does give players the chance to get in front of a crowd, and to adjust what they're doing without the coaches telling them exactly what to do after each play.
Notes from the players after the jump.
The media got a chance to talk to Michigan Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee earlier today. Note from his press conference follow.
- There have been a lot of fun competitions to watch at every position. Nobody wins or loses a starting spot in spring football. Guys have the summer to improve their bodies, and position battles really take place in fall camp. The next five spring practices still give guys a chance to emerge.
- There have been a number of injuries that have given younger guys a chance to prove themselves this spring, specifically center (David Molk) and Outside Wideout (JR Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes).
- As much of a jump in offensive production as there was from Year One to Year Two (from 109th to 59th in total offense, from 101st to 41st in scoring offense), Magee hopes there will be equal improvement between last year and Year Three. There is finally returning experience at important positions, and guys that have had three years in the system. They finally aren't starting fresh.
- The early enrollees are adjusting to the pace and physicality of college ball. The coaches need to keep reminding themselves that these guys are basically still high schoolers.
- Magee and Rodriguez have never butted heads about playcalling. When you gameplan the right way, you know going into a game what you're going to do. The only thing that can get frustrating is when the execution isn't good.
- South Florida first contacted Magee about applying for their head coaching job, not the other way around (Skip Holtz eventually won the position). Magee lived 15 years in Tampa, so he is familiar with the area, and actually graduated from USF while he was playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Interviewing for the job was a good experience, but he doesn't really think about becoming a head coach that frequently, aside from a long-term career goal. He just worries about doing what he can at Michigan: "Man, we're about to do what we're supposed to do here." He didn't want to leave unfinished business in Ann Arbor.
- Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are both getting time running with the 1s in practice. Now that they have game experience, the coaches are really working on their mechanics and fundamentals. Splitting time with the 1s gives both a chance to compete.
- Tate Forcier "played like a freshman" last year at times. He faced new coverages every week, and it takes time to teach a kid everything.
- Denard Robinson is learning the entire offense. They didn't plan to only have him run QB sweeps, etc., last year, but that's just what happened. He will have a much better comfort level with the offense this year, with spring practice, game experience, and film study.
- Devin Gardner has been good. He's very competitive, and he wants to compete with the other two guys right away. He's not going to sit behind them without doing everything he can to compete with them first. Magee would like to see him compete for the starting job in the fall, because it means that there are several viable options at QB. If he plays well enough to get onto the field, they don't have a problem not redshirting him.
- Experience at quarterback will give the coaches much more comfort with their play calls. They'll be confident with the entire playbook.
- The competition is heating up, and it's fun to watch. The coaches would love to have three or four options in the season. Guys who can play multiple roles within the offense give the team some flexibility.
- Mike Cox is a powerful guy, who is very physically talented. Last year, he maybe thought that it wasn't "his turn" yet, and he'd have to wait for Minor and Brown. The coaches had to make sure he realized that if he can compete and earn the job, it's his, no matter what. He's taken that attitude to heart this spring.
- Vincent Smith will be back in fall camp, competing with everyone else for a starting role.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint needs to keep learning the playbook, and he'll be good to go. He's done a good job with that so far.
- The coaches know what Mark Moundros is capable of, but with him moonlighting at linebacker this spring, it's given John McColgan a chance to get a lot of reps, and getting that experience in practice will really help him down the road.
Slots, Tight Ends, and Wideouts
- When they recruit slots, a lot of the guys can also play outside receiver positions, so they've moved there for spring with the injuries to Hemingway and Stokes. Roy Roundtree's "been mostly all outside right now." He was originally recruited as an outside receiver, so he can play both positions.
- Terrence Robinson is playing really well this spring. His first year, he was in a competition with Martavious Odoms for a starting spot, but got injured. A similar thing happened last year, which led to the emergence of Roy Roundtree. He's finally healthy, and can do a lot of different things.
- Jeremy Gallon is coming off a redshirt, and should have a chance to contribute at multiple positions. Like Odoms and Robinson, he's a very shifty guy, with a lot of ability.
- The tight end position has been really good to watch this spring. Magee isn't sure which of the two main guys (Kevin Koger and Martell Webb) is better. Webb is turning into a real team leader.
- The three redshirt freshmen coming up are very good. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield showed their talent on the scout team last year, and it's fun to watch them compete in the offense. They are a little immature (though they weigh more than they look - they aren't far off from their target weights), but very competitive. Lewan has been playing left tackle, and Schofield right tackle. Quinton Washington had been doing well, but he's been a little banged up.
- David Molk's injury has given some other centers a chance to get reps. Rocko Khoury has been getting a lot of time, and Elliott Mealer is playing in there as well. They're building depth at center.
- Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein have "been fine this spring." It's their third year in the system, so they understand what the coaches want.
- Steve Schilling is playing as well as he ever has since this coaching staff has been in town. He's turning into a real leader on the offense.
- Last year, there were too many injuries to have any real competition on the offensive line. This year, it's much better, and the competition is fun to watch.
Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson met with reporters for about a half hour today. Notes from his press conference.
- The defense is moving exclusively to a 6-2-3 (a little April Fools Day humor(!) from Robinson).
- The "new" defensive scheme isn't that dissimilar to what the team ran last year. With the hybrids, there are a lot of different alignments possible. The only big change from last year is some of the terminology.
- The changes weren't an all-Rodriguez or all-Robinson decision. Everyone on the staff wanted to see certain things tweaked a bit, and their input went into it.
- Between years (and over the course of a year), things should always be evolving to match personnel, the opposing offense, and other factors. Coach Robinson is always open to adjustments.
- As he has repeated many times, Robinson's been around football long enough that there are very few schemes he hasn't tried. He ran 3-3 fronts with the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos. With the Jets, the scheme worked particularly well against the Buffalo Bills, who liked to spread the ball a bit.
- Robinson's overarching philosophy is to make the defense strong from the inside out. Having strong defensive linemen, linebackers, and deep middle players is important to that. Robinson also believes in the "weak link theory," that the weakest spot on the defense dictates how good a defense can be. Developing depth is very important to eliminating weak links.
Year One To Year Two
- There was a big emphasis last year on getting more speed on the field (i.e. Stevie Brown playing linebacker). That will continue this year.
- A few items about specific games from last year. The Michigan State game was a good defensive performance, aside from a couple breakdowns related mostly to inexperience. Same with the Iowa game, aside from two specific things that ended up being big plays for Iowa (and a third, less egregious one). The team played some good ball against Wisconsin, but they were pretty banged up, and had to play through that. The Ohio State game was a good performance to end the season, but not good enough because the team didn't win the game.
- The defenders are "absorbing" the defense just fine. The offense is adding a few wrinkles, so they're getting tested by some things they have seen before.
- There's a night and day difference from last spring to now in terms of Robinson's comfort and communication with the staff and players. He knows people's personalities so he can read them better, and the same goes for them knowing him.
- The outside world doesn't need to hear quotes from Robinson to be confident in the defense - they won't believe it anyway unless and until they see it on the field.
- There's a good chemistry mix with younger guys (particularly redshirt freshmen) playing with real enthusiasm. When they're surrounded with more experienced guys, it can be a great thing. The team has been putting in the work, and they understand the expectations. This youth movement didn't exist last year.
- The biggest concern is still a lack of depth. Last year, they didn't have 18-19 guys who were ready to play on defense, but they still had to sub in those seven or eight other guys. Hopefully they'll have that this year, but there are still 15 or 16 defensive guys who won't be here until fall, so you never know.
Coaching and Personnel
- Though Robinson had input, the hiring of Adam Braithwaite was ultimately Rich Rodriguez's decision. Braithwaite is very experienced, having been a coordinator (albeit of a D-3 school) in the past. He's worked with Rich Rodriguez in the past, and the entire coaching staff has confidence in him. He also will be an exceptional recruiter.
- Robinson has worked with inside linebackers a lot in the past, so coaching them this year is not a new experience. He didn't coach them last year because Hopson was already in charge of them. As for how they're doing this spring, it's too early (only eight practices so far) to talk position battles or anything like that. They have a couple experienced guys but quite a bit of youth.
- Losing Mike Martin for the spring will give other defensive linemen more reps, which will hopefully help them be more ready in the fall. Robinson would guess that Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks were probably some of the hardest-working players on the team in the offseason conditioning program. Banks is starting to show some true leadership on the team as well. Also on the defensive line, Will Campbell has matured a lot. Last spring he was still like a high schooler - and was probably thinking a bit too much about his prom.
- Floyd Simmons has been playing a lot at Stevie Brown's old position. Thomas Gordon and Mike Williams are new to that spot, though it is somewhat similar to the role Williams played last year. Jordan Kovacs is still playing that box safety spot.
- Cameron Gordon is playing a lot at the deep safety spot due to injuries to some other guys. Brandin Hawthorne has been getting some reps there as well. Gordon is raw on defense, but has a natural feel at defensive back, and they hope he can continue improving. He has a defensive temperament and is very tough.
- At the corner spots, Troy Woolfolk is very comfortable, and is playing well. He's much more settled than last spring, when they had to move him around a bit more. James Rogers has good length, but is somewhat new to the position after switching last year. People forget that JT Floyd is still a young guy who was just a redshirt freshman last year. He put in a lot of work in the weight room, and will have more experience this year as well. Justin Turner is still a work in progress. He's got a prototypical frame for the position, and JT Floyd is helping him learn the position.
First things first, the Michigan Spring Game will now serve as a fundraiser for Mott Children's Hospital. Though the event will still be free to the public, they will have the opportunity to donate money to Mott as they enter - with incentives!
- $5 Donation - "All in for Michigan Towel"
- $20 Donation - "All in for Michigan, All in for Mott" T-Shirt
- $250 Donation - 4 Passes to a pre-season scrimmage(!)
- $500 Donation - 2 pre-game sideline passes to a 2010 football game (BGSU, UMass, Iowa, or Illinois).
The Beam Family of Brighton, MI will also match every donation that is made during the Spring Game. This fundraiser continues Michigan football's long-standing relationship with Mott.
The Spring Game festivities kick off an April 17th at 11AM, with the Alumni Flag Football Game (gates open at 10AM). The team takes the field for warmups around noon, and the game itself starts at 1. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have enough healthy players to be able to do a full scrimmage with teams divided up, but they'll do more offense v. defense things. In future years, a game-like scrimmage will be possible.
- Injuries: Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke both sprained knees, and are out a few weeks. They're hopeful that Emilien will be back for the final week of spring practice. Je'Ron Stokes sprained his ankle and Anthony LaLota injured his elbow, both should be out about a week. David Molk is able to run a bit and snap the ball, but he won't participate in any contact this spring. Everyone who had surgery in the off-season is progressing on schedule or even faster.
- The team will have three scrimmages this spring. This upcoming Saturday will be the first one. There will also be one the week before the spring game, and the Spring Game itself.
- Offense: Last year's offense was decent, but there were times (especially with turnovers) that they missed opportunities due to poor execution. This spring, they're focusing on improving that, as well as becoming more physical.
- Quarterbacks: Denard Robinson hasn't played anything other than QB so far this spring, but if it becomes clear he's not going to get tons of snaps there, he'll play other positions in addition. Devin Gardner is behind the other two QBs, as he still needs to learn the offense. His throwing mechanics are looking good though.
- Running Backs: Even the guys who have some experience are pretty young. Mike Cox has a very good opportunity this spring, and he should contribute this fall.
- Offensive Line: Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge are the veterans at the tackle positions. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will push them. The freshmen have gotten bigger, and will try to prove themselves this spring. If multiple guys at a position are able to help the team win, they'll play at tackle.
- Defense: They'll tweak defensive packages for the various offensive schemes they'll see this fall. The challenge is to have a wide enough variety of packages to be able to play every offense, while keeping the overall defense simple enough for the players to be able to learn it well.
- Defensive line: There isn't a lot of experienced depth on the offensive line, but that just means guys who need lots of reps this spring will be able to get them. Will Campbell is improving, he added a lot of strength to go with his weight this offseason. The coaches are excited to see what Anthony LaLota can do when he returns from injury, as he had a good offseason as well.
- Linebackers - Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh have impressed this spring, as has Mark Moundros, who is moonlighting at linebacker since the fullback doesn't play that many downs in this offense. Rodriguez thinks Mouton played well last year, but Obi seemed to falter down the stretch. One of the big factors in lackluster LB play last year was a lack of depth - the D would play well for a couple downs or even a few drives, then opposing offenses would have their way with them.
- Safeties - With Emilien and Van Slyke out, a number of younger guys are getting a chance to play this spring. Cameron Gordon is playing well at safety. Brandin Hawthorne will play both safety and hybrid.
- Corners: JT Floyd has been playing well this spring. The coaches are putting some real pressure on him, and he's responding well. Justin Turner is also getting a lot of reps.
- The offensive line intensity has been good in the first few days. There is a lot of depth, and the young guys are ready to prove themselves. The guys are ready to hit.
- Schilling is excited to be a leader on the offensive line. He has lots of experience, and the rest of the guys who have been around a while are helping the young offensive linemen come along for the future. Stephen is up to about 305 pounds, after playing last year around the 295 range.
- Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, and Michael Schofield are three of the hardest workers on the offensive line. Lewan and Washington in particular seem ready to prove they can contribute on the field. They're hoping to push for some playing time. Lewan has a nasty streak in the way he plays.
- The defense has been playing primarily a 3-3-5 this spring. Typically, Michigan's offensive front only sees odd front in passing situations, but Schilling thinks they'll be able to do a lot of good things out of this formation.
- Patrick Omameh is very comfortable at guard (from the way Schilling was talking, it sounds like this move is probably permanent). When Molk comes back from his injury, the interior of the offensive line will be very good. Molk played very well before getting injured, and Patrick finished the year very strong.
- The running backs got some reps last year, but Schilling is excited to see what they can do, especially with all the depth in the backfield. Michael Shaw is a good speed back, Cox and Toussaint can pound the ball well, and when he comes back, Vincent Smith can do it all - including catch out of the backfield.
- Schilling is bummed he won't be around for the first night game in Michigan Stadium. It's especially exciting for a game against a rival like Notre Dame. He'll try to make it back for the game if he can.
- This is Troy's first time in a 3-3-5 type of defense. It's the best formation for the personnel that this team has right now. Troy has built up a comfort level with Greg Robinson's coaching after being a bit skeptical at first last year. He likes the way GERG coaches, and believes in what he says. The coaches are working to make sure the players - especially the younger ones - are learning well.
- Switching positions all the time last year hurt him a bit, but for the long-term, it's actually been a help. At corner, he now understands what the safeties will be doing, and can trust in the scheme a bit more. He still has to work on his technique at corner a bit.
- Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys. JT Floyd has been looking really good lately, and understands the game a bit better. He had a nice interception the other day. Justin Turner is still young, but is coming along well. Mike Williams and Jordan Kovacs both like the positions they've moved to. For both of them, there's an emphasis at the new positions on coming up and making tackles, rather than playing in deep coverage. That plays to both of their strengths.
- With all the 3-3-5 talk, I've been assuming Craig Roh would mostly play with his hand down for more of a 4-2-5 look, but that wasn't the case. He was practicing with the other LBs, on the first unit with Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton.
- Tate Forcier is still clearly the best passer of the QBs. Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson were about even, with Devin maybe a liiitle more accurate (except on the longball, which he overthrew quite a bit). Denard probably has a much deeper understanding of the passing game, and would be more able to contribute.
- Looked like they might be preparing the throw it to the RBs a bit more this season. They went away from it a bit when Carlos Brown went out, but Vincent Smith did have a few catches last season.
- Mike Martin isn't practicing in the spring (shoulder surgery), but he was running laps around the indoor field. I guarantee you he's faster than me, despite being 300ish pounds and looking like the Hulk.
- MI DE Brennen Beyer was visiting practice today.
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.