From Portage Northern.
More Spring Tea Leaves
The second of the three niblets of information to come out of spring practice is Lloyd Carr's post-spring press conference, which was yesterday. You can listen to the press conference (evil Real Player link) yourself at MLive; I condense and interpret below if you don't have 35 minutes. (Also: Scout transcript.)
The third niblet is the spring "game" or practice-type-thingy, which is Saturday at 1 PM. I'll attend and file a report -- hopefully it'll be useful.
Bass is out, but not that out. Carr confirmed that Antonio Bass is expected to miss the entire 2006 season with a severe knee injury. He did leave the door open a crack with some vague references to extraordinary rehabilitation, but the upshot was don't expect Antonio in '06. Carr did allay fears that the injury might be career-ending, saying that he "didn't expect" that to be the case.
Other injuries: John Thompson, Mario Manningham, and Rueben Riley have all missed portions of the spring with injuries described as "minor." Freshly-scoped Doug Dutch returned to practice last Tuesday.
More seriously, Chris McLaurin, who underwent shoulder surgery last year, may have to get a similar surgery on his other shoulder. Even if that should happen Carr said he "should be back by fall."
Chad Henne is "right where he needs to be," according to Carr. There's not much to discuss here -- Henne is the starter and good things will be said about him no matter how he performs until fall. Forcier is the backup and will hopefully not be heard from until Henne departs.
Mike Hart is going to be the starter, but Carr also had high praise for the rest of the backs, especially Kevin Grady:
[Grady] had the best day of his career on Saturday. He ran with power. He's much more comfortable with making the cuts and finding the hole. He's a guy who likes to compete. He's very tough. He has made wonderful strides. His weight is down, which has really significantly helped him.
Of note is that fifth-year walkon/dustmite Alijah Bradley may actually be in line for some playing time:
Alijah has put himself in position where we know he is a dependable guy. He can do a lot of things. He's an outstanding pass protector and pass receiver, a guy who is very quick.
Bradley did have Michigan's longest run in last year's Ohio State game, a nine yard draw that put Michigan in a fourth and short they converted on their final scoring drive. Also, Carlos Brown has terrific "breakaway speed" and is working at cornerback some.
At fullback, Carr had extensive and specific praise for fifth-year senior Obi Oluigbo:
Obi Oluigbo has had a terrific spring. My guess is this guy is going to be a dynamite fullback in the fall. ... I think he is much, much quicker. He's had some plays where everybody on the team is impressed. 'Wow!' â€“ Those kinds of blocks on linebackers. He really feels comfortable with the things we're asking him to do. He's using his athletic ability to get there, he's got his pads down and he's been exploding into the defender. He's been lights out.
Pencil him in as the starter and hope the praise is warranted.
Wideouts and Tight Ends
Manningham's been out with a minor knee sprain, so he didn't get much mention. Redshirt freshman Laterryal Savoy did, however:
[Savoy] has really shown the ability to help us this fall. He's a big guy, and he can run. He's going to be a factor.
The rest of it is unilluminating praise. At tight end, Massey and Ecker have "improved significantly," and FSF Carson Butler gets an implied superlative from Carr:
Carson Butler is going to be... [what? going to be what?] if his attitude and his work ethic... [aaaargh! whatwhatwhat?] he needs more strength, but he is probably as athletic as any tight end we've had.
Carr at his rambling best.
Tackle is sure to be the main focus of preseason panic. The first sign the coaches were scrambling was the move of natural right tackle Jake Long to the left side. Now Carr is mentioning anyone and everyone other than fifth year senior Mike Kolodziej opposite Long, including redshirt freshmen Mark Ortmann and Corey Zirbel. Yikes. Double yikes: the guy tabbed by Carr as the likely starter is Rueben Riley, who was the source of much anxiety a year ago. Remember the Penn State preview? The passing offense's "key matchup":
OTs Ruben Riley/Mike Kolodziej ("small animals in my immediate vicinity post-game") versus Tamba Hali ("wood chipper").
That prediction turned out about as well as all the rest -- Riley turned in a nigh-heroic performance against Hali -- but it was rooted in the events of the previous week against Minnesota. During that game true freshman Steve Davis repeatedly ownzored Riley and singlehandedly snuffed out three or four drives.
Anyway, with your mind properly calibrated, check this quote out about who's been playing at RT and try not to curl into the fetal position:
Brett Gallimore is lining up there, I mentioned Cory Zirbel, of course Rueben Riley and Mike Kolodziej. Kolodziej is playing at both tackles. Mark Ortmann is at left tackle. Zirbel has gotten the majority of the snaps, and Kolodziej's gotten some.
Yeesh. That probably has something to do with Riley missing hunks of practice time but it means that Zirbel is at worst second on the depth chart.
Also in limbo: right guard. Carr mentioned redshirt sophomores Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Cuilla as the main contenders, but had caveats for both:
Alex Mitchell has done some good things. He's going to have to compete. He's going to have to lose some weight, and I think the same is true of Jeremy Ciulla. The right guard is a position where we'll go into training camp having to make a decision at that position.
The nominally good news is that three positions appear to be set: Jake Long ("great spring") at left tackle, Adam Kraus ("very good spring") at left guard, and Mark Bihl ("outstanding spring") at center. You might do well to be a bit wary about Bihl's insertion into the starting lineup. He's been given every chance to grab a starting spot for the past two or three years and has never lasted more than a couple games before getting yanked.
This seems worthy of a sigh of relief...
Tim Jamison didn't have a very good day on Saturday, but up until Saturday, I would say he probably has had as good a spring as anybody on our team.
...as it lessens the chance of a re-Massey. Also coming in for praise: Terrance Taylor ("has a chance to be a great nose tackle... much stronger"), Marques Walton("played very well"), and James McKinney ("made very good progress") -- now a DT.
Ut-oh? Shawn Crable received extremely high praise...
I think Shawn Crable has had a terrific spring. Crable, if he continues, there's no way Crable is not going to be on the field, because he has really turned it up.
... but the rest of the linebackers got a big, fat raspberry from Carr:
The rest of them are up for grabs. ...
On if he is disappointed with the linebacker play this spring:
"I'm a little disappointed at certain places in there, but I expect before we're done there that they will be a strength of this team."
Since David Harris was the one thing standing between the Michigan defense and Indiana-level run defense last year, I would assume his job is safe. I would read the ominous doom-saying about the linebackers as an indication that both Prescott Burgess and Chris Graham are in serious danger of finding themselves on the bench come fall unless they stop playing like Jim Herrmann is still their coach.
The battle at corner has a surprising contender in Charles Stewart. When asked about who would start opposite Leon Hall, Carr said that both Stewart and Johnny Sears were having "very, very productive springs." Trent was not mentioned until specifically asked about later; Carr took the opportunity to say this:
He's in a very competitive position because he came into the spring as number one. Sears and Stewart have really come on. He's like a lot of guys. He's got to step up."
If I had to put together a corner depth chart right now I have no idea who would end up opposite Hall -- and it would probably be a distinction without a difference. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, since Trent seemed to perform very well for a freshman in '05.
At safety, the first name out of Carr's mouth was junior Jamar Adams:
We've had one safety I think has really ... I don't like to say solidified, but Jamar Adams has had an excellent spring.
Carr also mentioned that there were a "couple of freshmen" -- Steve Brown and Jonas Mouton -- who would be candidates for time in the fall, but I don't buy it. With Harrison, Adams, Englemon, Mundy and Barringer all returning, Michigan has no fewer than five safeties with starting experience. If Brown and Mouton are going to see the field it's going to be at corner (Brown) or linebacker (Mouton).
"no question, Zoltan has improved from the fall"
Four Heismans are still in reach.