spoiler alert: i linked this
That Time Wheatley Donkey’d Peppers
I’ve been so enamored with Brown’s defense lately that we haven’t discussed Harbaugh’s run games, which is a shame because they’re brilliant. He kept the fancy stuff in the barn of course but the Spring Game did show a neat thing and got a big chunk out of it.
For completion’s sake here’s who’s on the field. Those likely to see extensive action in 2016 are in bold, and non-Kovacsian walk-ons have hashtags:
Only a few of those matchups can be at all enlightening, but I’d count the highlighted one among them.
1. THE PLAY: POWER WITHOUT THE PULLING
The defense is in a 71 (base over with the NT covering the center) front with the SAM (Peppers) up on the line to counteract that extra TE. The offense starts by motioning that TE.
The defense shows it’s in man, with the boundary CB (Washington) rolling with the motioning H-back (Butt). When Butt stops between the LT and LG, the WLB (Bush) comes up like he’s going to blitz that gap. That’s a good thing too because the called run goes right over his ass:
Absent Harbaugh’s playbook I don’t know how to name it, but we saw a fancier version last year against BYU, and Space Coyote drew it up as “Power Lead.” That time it was run to the C gap, with the receiver coming in to crack a linebacker. This is the more vanilla version.
If you can picture it, the same blocks are happening as if it’s Power, but the fullback is doing the kickout block, and the H-back is the “puller” leading through the intended hole. The running back then picks a hole through the carnage, typically to whichever side of the H-back’s block that a defender isn’t in.
[After the jump: The defense solves this the Don Brown way, then breaks down]
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]
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.
Where have you seen the biggest growth in your offense over the last couple of weeks?
“I just think that people understand the concepts. Really the passing game’s come along with the precision and timing. You know, making corrections. People understand what you’re trying to correct and they’re fixing it the next day you come out.”
Coach Harbaugh said that his quarterbacks were making ‘one big mistake’ per day right now. Is that still—I mean, what do you need to see from them this week and then going through the summer?
“I think just, you know, in terms of where they need to go with the ball, the progressions of their reads, when there’s no play to be made make a play. And that goes for any type of quarterback in any system. That’s not just this particular system here. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Have you seen a difference between John [O’Korn] being in his first year being in a competitive situation and the other two guys, Shane [Morris] and Wilton [Speight]?
“I think John’s a real competitor. I don’t think if he’s a redshirt it doesn’t matter to him. He’s a guy who comes out, wants to compete every day, and wants to be at his best.”
How do you distinguish between making a play when there isn’t one and trying to do too much? Where’s the line that gets drawn between those two?
“I think those guys just kind of naturally have it. They know when to make a play. They know when to step up and find a spot in the pocket. They know when to scramble. They know when to get rid of the ball not to take a sack. You know, I think it’s just kind of part of their DNA. It’s in there, you’ve just got to get it out of them.”
Was moving Mason [Cole] more about the importance of that center position or just getting the top five on the field?
“You know, you just really want to get the top five in however you do that. We’re still evaluating if that’s the best position for him. He’s done a very, very nice job this spring. That’s a hard thing to do is stand there with the ball in your hand and you’ve got a 300-pound guy breathing down your neck and you’ve got to snap it, you know. He’s really handled it beautifully. He’s done a really, really nice job with it.”
Do you guys feel like Newsome’s ready to start if need be?
“Yeah! When we played him last year as a true freshman we believed that he’s ready to do that if that’s how it all pans out.”
What’s different about him? You’ve talked about football lenses opening. Was his already a little more open than most?
“He’s very intelligent. He gets it. He can make a correction once [and] he can fix it. He understands what you’re talking about when you talk to him in the room. The screen doesn’t got fuzzy with him. He stays with you in a conversation.”
[After THE JUMP: Others in the OL rotation, Ty Isaac’s spring, and what Don Brown’s scheme does for the O-line]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
— ap (@plurjuice) March 26, 2016
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
How’s the running back group progressing through six practices?
“Progressing well. Just trying to get certain guys like De’Veon [Smith] and Ty Isaac to what I call a mastery level, meaning that it’s progressing past the things we did last year. Instead of going through the hole and getting tackled by a guy it’s really working some moves, try and improve your game.
“With the younger guys, they’re doing well. They’re right where I’d expect them to be. A little overloaded in some aspects in terms of the information coming in on them, but they all look good. They all look good.”
How do you keep De’Veon healthy for a whole year?
“How do I keep him healthy for a full year?”
Yeah. I mean, that was obviously the challenge last year.
”He was healthy. He was relatively healthy. I mean, any football guy who lines up and takes that first—it’s like a car. Once you take that car off the lot it depreciates. It’s never going to be 100% value. So in terms of De’Veon, I think he was healthy besides the toe. But in terms of being healthy, some of the things we’re talking about now: being able to not run down the middle of guys, taking so many hits, being able to make some guys miss. That will improve his health, but I think relatively compared to last year he was relatively healthy.”
WelpThisWasGoingToBeMyMGoQuestion: What’s a realistic expectation for the two freshmen?
“Expectation? They’re true freshmen.”
So how much would that be?
“They’re freshmen! We won’t know. Right now it’s too hard to put anything on it. I’ll just put it to you this way: it’s freshmen. They’re freshmen. I mean, they’re good freshmen, but the fact of the matter is they’re freshmen. So to put an expectation on it is really unfair right now.”
For Ty [Isaac], who probably didn’t see as many carries as he wanted to last year, getting to the mastery level, has he put in more work? Has he taken to that a little bit differently this year?
“Yeah. I mean, regardless the point of the snaps, it’s still just age and being around and hearing it, so trying to take his game to that next level. So yeah, I mean, he’s working. He worked last year. He’s working this year. Sometimes a guy may just outwork you. That’s just a thing. It’s not that he did anything wrong last year. But he’s working hard. Yes, he is. Putting in the work.”
Do you feel like Drake [Johnson] is finally back to finally maybe 100%? He’s running track, too. He said that’s helping his leg and knee strength.
“Well, unfortunate part about me, I never was here when Drake was Drake Drake. So what I saw last year and just seeing a guy who’s coming off an ACL, he looked pretty darn good. So if we can improve him and get him past that, we should be looking at a much improved Drake, and he is looking good. In terms of track, he has a little more burst to him. But just in terms of football-wise, we’re trying to get Drake to that mastery level as well. It’s moving past little things like getting tackled, little better in pass-pro, things of that nature. So he’s one of those guys we’re trying to get to that mastery level.”
[After THE JUMP: some good news re: fullbacks, more on achieving RB mastery level]