well that's just, like, your opinion, man
Same. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
The Question: What was your biggest revelation from the spring?
Adam: The biggest thing the spring game did for me was ease lingering fears about two defensive position groups. The linebackers were almost universally question marks heading into the spring (unless you count the snaps we saw Ben Gedeon play last season) and they played well enough to quell concerns heading into the fall. I don't remember noticing Gedeon live or in the three or four times I've rewatched the game, which is passable for the Mike position; he also didn't get many snaps, which is indicative of how the staff feels about him. Mike McCray looked good in the spring game, while Devin Bush Jr. looked good in the open practice at Ford Field. Jabrill's gonna Jabrill at Sam; it's unfortunate that Noah Furbush was on crutches considering the hype he received from the coaching staff, but at least there's an excellent starting option at that spot.
Even though we've seen Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas play quite a bit I was a little concerned about them, particularly Thomas taking over Wilson's free safety spot. Thomas lived up to the hype he'd received this spring whether he was jetting up to support the run or dropping and covering acres of space; his interception in the back of the end zone is a great example of what he can do with his athleticism. Thomas mentioned that he didn't feel like he hit his stride last season until he fully learned the playbook; it looks like he's learned this playbook very quickly. Tyree Kinnel looked like an excellent backup to Hill at SS, reading the field well and bumping receivers off routes regularly.
When I step back and take a 10,000-foot view of things, I find myself taking twisted joy in the things that cause hand wringing about the defense. Sure, some of the position switches on the defensive line are curious, and though I've written in this very space about trying Gary out at WDE (or End in Don Brown's defense) and keeping Wormley at SDE (or Anchor to Brown) it's fun to worry about how to best deploy an armory of Dudes who deserve significant snaps instead of whether there are any Dudes to be deployed. After the spring game, we know the latter isn't an issue for any defensive position group.
[Hit THE JUMP for more positive defense feels, Tyree Kinnel hype, quarterback reassurance, and a stunning reversal of course from Brian.]
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.
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.]
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.
What's going on with Rudock?
Brian - you made some comments today on the podcast about how Jake Rudock's inability to hit the deep ball has finally bitten us in the collective asses, which I agree. You also mentioned that when you watched him last year, while he wasn't dead-on every time, he was able to hit the deep pass from time to time - something he clearly can't do this year.
My question is this - to me, this does not seem like a 'new coach, new system' type of a problem. Those issues seem to be the ones where he fails to even attempt a throw to a wide open receiver (which he does all the time - but I give him more of a pass for that as the "new system / new coach" issue). But when he throws the deep pass, only inaccurately - that suggests to me an issue with maybe his mechanics or something else that has thrown off his accuracy past 15 yards. Any thoughts why that might be? If anything, I would expect his deep accuracy to improve with a guy like Harbaugh teaching him the fundamentals. Again, I separate this from other issues such as "stares down Butt" or "ignores screamingly open routes every once in awhile."
Yeah, you got me. Some of the Rudock problems are issues that make sense given what we saw from him at Iowa. Not throwing at sort of covered Jake Butt on second and goal from the 18 is a Rudock problem I can understand. That is his reputation. Rudock not finding receivers is a problem I can understand. He's in a new system.
Rudock underthrowing Amara Darboh by about 20 yards is inexplicable. Any quarterback is going to be off on some long throws; to miss as often and as badly as Rudock has is not something that I saw last year. That's not just homerdom. Preseason, PFF put out an article titled "Michigan can win with QB Jake Rudock" that noted he was 12th in downfield (20+ yards in the air) accuracy by their system last year. In the Maryland game, BTN had a similar stat:
The disparity is certainly bigger now.
I don't know if he's hurt or his mechanics are messed up or what, but for whatever reason his ability to hit downfield passes has collapsed. Why? I dunno. Is there something different in what he's doing here?
Since one is in the middle of the field and one on the sideline. Those are throws of about the same length. Am I crazy or does the 2015 video look like a guy who's loading up to get it as far as he can while 2014 sees Rudock make a throw that's comfortably within his range? I dunno.
Something is wrong. A problematic injury, possibly one that caused the weird Iowa QB depth chart thing, is a possible explanation. The other explanation is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ref hot take
Having read Seth’s analysis of the officiating (and you really should make him do that weekly) my question is why – why did this happen to us? If you ascribe these “errors” to incompetence, shouldn’t there be an equal number of blown calls going in our favor? Incompetent referees should be just as likely to screw things up for team A as team B and over the course of a 60 minute game shouldn’t it balance relatively out if they are simply incompetent?
The obvious alternative to incompetence is the officials had an agenda and carried it out. Granted, we still should’ve won the game but with so many critical calls being made against Michigan it made the game much closer than it needed to be and allowed the last play to finally tip the scale in MSU’s favor. And if it’s an agenda – why does it exist?
What say you? Incompetence, agenda or something else?
If you flip a coin a million times there are going to be stretches in there where you get a long series of heads or tails. Michigan just ate an game that was virtually all tails. There's no need for a further explanation. Over the past decade or so it's been definitively proven that the replay officials are not good enough at their job, but that's all. The Big Ten tends to use retired referees in the booth, with evidently disastrous results.
If there was any sort of "plan" here Michigan wouldn't have gotten a free touchdown when their receiver barely scraped the pylon a few years back in this very game. Remember that? That call was overturned from the correct call to free TD. Replay officials should no longer be people with rotary phones. Actual officials are probably the best we've got. That sucks; not much to do about it.
[After THE JUMP: HSPs future, Whoville analogy, we should have done this or that]
You said the other day that you thought Mario [Ojemudia] would most likely miss the season with an Achilles [injury]. Is that the case, and who do you look at to step up obviously with him being out this week?
“Yeah, that’s…that is the case. Look at- look within our roster, look within our defense. It’s a…don’t know exactly who yet, but I mean, you know the guys.”
How long have you known Pat Fitzgerald and could you talk about any background with him?
“Yeah. Great competitor. Background would be starting with I was Stanford, he was at Northwestern. First crossed paths on the recruiting trail. Sized him up and said, ‘This guy’s a fine, fine coach and great competitor.’ He’s done a fabulous job. He’s a great coach.
“And got to know him this summer. Came to our football camp and did a tremendous job talking to the campers and sharing football lessons and life lessons with them. Thought it was fabulous. And his football team is a tremendous football team, so, you know, everything you look at with Pat Fitzgerald is really good. Admire him.”
Watching them on film, what impresses you most about their defense?
“Athletic. Mike Hankwitz does a great job. They react as athletic and fast as anybody we’ve seen. No. 18 [Anthony Walker] is as good a player as we’ve faced, so all those things. Really good scheme. Great team defense. Leading the country in points allowed. I think that’s the thing mainly is this team reacts and flows to the ball as good as you’re going to see in college football.”
Going back to the reference of sizing up Pat Fitzgerald, with the defense of Northwestern No. 1 and you guys right behind them, have you given this a lot of thought as far as [being] a battle of the defenses? Is this a big game in your mind for both defenses, yours particularly?
“Well, that’s part of it, yeah. Offense, special teams; all equal parts of the game.”
But given the ranking for both defenses, do you feel like it’s a bout or-
“No, the two defenses won’t go against each other. They won’t face each other, so look at it the way you always look at it: it’s three phases, and you want to win each of those phases.”
[After THE JUMP: “I’m paraphrasing here, but how many hits can you take and keep coming back? So pull up that clip. Sylvester Stallone did it well.”]