That's how you watch a Spring Game.
Or run around and freak out about everything. It's your call.
It is spring, the season with all the rebirth and egg-laying rabbits and such. In this pastel, paschal period of the year, everything is positive. Your baseball team could win the World Series, your backups arrived with 20 lbs more muscle/less fat ready to decapitate enemies, and your linebackers exploding everything in the backfield says everything about your linebackers and nothing about your offensive line. So question:
I am about to devote all of my attention to Spring Football. What can I learn about this team with this exercise? Is there anything that my eyes can show me that the hype is hiding?
Ace: In previous years, I've had the opportunity to see a few spring practices (in the RichRod days, which coincided with my internship at The Wolverine) and get to know a few players both on Michigan's squad and at other levels of college football. Almost universally, the first thing I've been told about spring practices, and the spring game in particular, is to expect the defense to look well ahead of the offense—and that, if this is the case, it's a good thing. That's especially true when installing a new offense, as Michigan is this season.
|Mmmm true freshmen dominating walk-ons. [Fuller]|
If you're skeptical, think back to those Rodriguez spring games and the general excitement they brought as Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson slashed through the defense with ease. Those were fun games. Those were also bad defenses. It's a whole lot easier to install and run a base defense than to get the offense fully up to speed, even with a limited playbook; if the offense looks like they know what they're supposed to be doing better than the defense, it's a point of concern.
So, strangely, I'm hoping for an ugly spring game—if it even resembles a "game" at all, which it hasn't for years. That's not to say I hope the offensive line looks totally overmatched—quite the contrary—but with a Doug Nussmeier's system still being put in place, the defense should more than hold their own at this juncture. Since we'll be seeing a very unfinished product on offense, I think more than anything we'll learn where the defense stands as they also make a transition, albeit a smaller one, to playing more 4-3 over with a reshuffled coaching staff.
[After the jump: preparing for platitudes]
BiSB: Well, for the new guys, it's about establishing expectations; expectations for their positions. expectations for their performance on and off the field, and expectations for what it means to be a football player and a student here at Michigan. For a lot of these guys, their heads are swimming a bit, no question. But spring is a time to give them a taste of everything, so when fall rolls around they will be that much quicker to pick things up. We've seen some flashes from several of them, though, and we're really excited about their futures. For the veterans, it's about building off of last season, and figuring out what they each need to do to take that next step.
|This is a time for both seniors and sarcasm to really step up. [Fuller]|
Offensively, Coach Nussmeier came in and hit the ground running, and he's done an outstanding job already. I wouldn't say he's "simplifying" things, but he's really trying to distill the offense to its essential components. We want to get the guys to the point where they are comfortable with the terminology, the schemes, and the techniques, and are just playing football instead of thinking about everything. We want to avoid that 'paralysis by analysis,' ya know? That takes some time, but they're getting there. The line is starting to gel, and everyone is starting to look more comfortable. We brought Coach Nuss in to help make us a physical, dominant team at the point of attack, and that starts with the running game, but we're also going to need some big-time play from the quarterback position if we're going to accomplish the things we want to accomplish.
Defensively, we have to get tougher and more physical, and I think Coach Mattison has done a great job of getting kids to be more aggressive. We can't be successful in the Big Ten unless we stop the run, so it all starts up front. The D-Line is doing a pretty good job, but as a group they need to refine their technique and work on their leverage. For the linebackers, it's all about making their reads and getting downhill. We've got some great athletes there, but we need them to play fast all the time and to flow to the ball. In the back end, we're focused on field awareness, which is something I think we can always be a little better at. No question.
Seth: Your sarcastic response needs about 400x more toughness, first because in spring ball you can never have enough toughness, and second because it's too close to 90% of stuff written about spring ball and therefore a lot of people won't get it. I get it, and get why: because being optimistic about Michigan in spring has a tendency to backfire ugly. So this spring I am trying a new strategy: utter pessimism.
Ace points out that the defense ought to be way ahead of the offense, which should be running nothing but base stuff and saving all its surprises for getting Michigan back to .500 against a I-AA team. That is true, but they also should look like they know what they're doing. Here's what would become the 2013 offensive line a moment before the James Ross stick that was the talk of spring:
Ross took off the moment Kalis started to pull, which is pretty good, but also Jack Miller is blocking nobody and A.J. Williams kind of isn't either. Last year I took this as 50% Ross is an assassin, 25% the interior OL needs work, and 25% not going to run a PA TE flat here because spring game/A.J. Williams. Turns out it was more like 1% Ross and 99% Power-O/still can't pull/clueless young OL/Williams isn't a pass threat/Borges still doesn't know this PANIC. Everything wrong with 2013 is in that photo above.
Things learned watching last year's spring game were this, that Borges's best shot at a big play is to chuck it up to Darboh, that Jeremy Gallon is good, that Funchess is a weapon, that the DL will stunt a lot, and Raymon Taylor is ahead of Avery. Also NORFLEET:
In previous spring sessions we learned the 2010 defense can't stop a seam for its life, that Emilien and Turner weren't going to work out, that Russ Bellomy can throw it exactly two yards further than Sheridan, and that Borges would, indeed, run an I-form power offense with Denard Robinson.
Since things that appear worrisome in the spring game tend to become huge issues for this team, my recommendation is to panic about all of them and treat anything nice as a consequence of things that are seriously broken.
Thing that would make me happiest: offense is consistently getting 3 yards with inside zone runs because Kugler is doing Molk things, and no more because the safeties are doing Kovacs things.
Brian: I generally look at spring games like I do high school recruiting tape, wherein you can figure out certain things about athleticism and "lookit that guy" but not much when it comes to the more esoteric positions. Denard Robinson's first spring game was a whoah moment; ditto Steve Breaston; ditto Devin Funchess.
|We want Canteen to be the new Gallon [from Twitter]|
So take a look out for guys on the periphery: wide receivers and running backs and cornerbacks. Those guys can do things in this game that provide good indications of how they might do, Norfleet sick burn above nonwithstanding. Freddy Canteen is obvious; I'm also looking at the development of Lewis and Stribling at corner and Smith and Green at tailback. Unfortunately, we won't get to see Amara Darboh.
Things on the interior will be confused by changes to both defense and offense and will have a high level of noise. In a normal spring the ability to do things is often overwhelmed by the inability to know what you should do, and this is one with more change than normal. Conclusions will be light on the ground.
I hope to learn that Dennis Norfleet's under-utilization was enough justification to fire Borges by itself, nevermind the TFLs. I expect to find out that Devin Gardner is still the starting quarterback.
Mathlete: Spring football is the time when teams can strip down and begin actively rebuilding. Because of that, evaluating the team is pointless. The defense should be ahead because it takes less successful organization to do well on defense than offense. I think Brian is dead on that the biggest thing may be to find the potential breakout skill position players. So far, all signs point to Canteen as the man. With Drake Harris and Amara Darboh sitting this one out, it's probably Canteen or one of last year's freshmen.
I will be shocked if a running back is able to do anything. Between last year's offensive line and the nature of spring football, I expect a lot of Smith and Green running into a mass of bodies. This doesn't mean that things won't be better in the fall, but I don't think there is going to be a lot gleaned from the spring.
On defense there probably won't be too much to takeaway. Maybe someone stands out with some explosive plays, but most likely that comes in a matchup against a backup. Spring games are mostly useless and with a staff as paranoid as the one we have, its more likely that any insight is a red herring as real insight. But with that said, hey let's watch some football.
That's how you watch a Spring Game.
Or run around and freak out about everything. It's your call.
During the game: 6 pack and relax.
After the game: Run around and freak out about everything (until August)
Some people do take spring games way too seriously though. When someone drops a pass or makes a bad throw, there are those who freak out.
You ask "How to Watch a Spring Game". But the real question is how do you listen to a Spring Game?
Sounds like football? Must be football.
I want to see Devin of the early games last year, a confident passer. I don't want to see the Devin of the end of the ND game or the games that followed.
I want to see Shane make accurate passes with the right amount of zip on the ball, as well as making good reads.
I want to see Green hitting the holes provided and making people miss on others.
I want to see receivers run good routes and make good catches on maybe not so good throws.
I want to see our FG kicker hit consistantly.
I think this is what you can see from the Spring Game. I plan to watch it on TV with beer, where I can rewind and see again and again. I think the at Spring Game experience is blah.
Hoke has gone on record with the media that this Saturday's event will not be a game of any sort. Saturday's proceedings will be practice drills.
So the best thing to do is turn off the TV or not go to the stadium, and do something worthwhile with your 2 hours.
In no particular order:
Yeah, and what's the deal with airline food?
The spring game which is realy a glorified practice is not the place to determine anything about the 2014 team. Talk to anyone that has attended an actual practice to tell you the story rather than reading something from someone who never attended any of the practices.
Don't take too much out of spring because after spring summer workouts and fall camp you will then find out who has put the time in all off season. Spring you get some info on what is going on.
Best news out of spring is the dline looks far better as a group right now and the players fitting the responsibilities of the 4-3 over better has payed off for them. So, we will wait till the first game of the season and see how that matches up.
O Line has been hit/miss but will wait and see again.
I'll be looking for 5 guys doing the right thing. No one blocking air. Hats on hats. If the RBs rip a few runs and get into the secondary, that should be a good sign. I agree that the other thing to watch is great plays from the skill guys. Sharp passes, separation on routes (or NOT when looking at the defensive side), great catches, flashes of elusiveness, and some ball hawking on the defensive side. Canteen may be the WOW moment guy like Funchess was when I saw an open practice before the 2012 season opener vs. Alabama. Would be good to see Speight hit some nice throws. Real depth at QB would be a wonderful thing to see.
All I want is to see a competent offensive line. That's all. If we can execute basic run and pass block schemes this year that could mean a 2/3 game swing in the win column. Please, no more going straight to the second level without even touching a D-lineman and no more just flat out blown assignments where our linemen end up blocking air. Everything else can fall in line later, but please no more consistent negative yardage plays.
When Strobel is getting into the backfield, it means nothing when you realize that it's a 4th unit walk-on OT.
Was it last year or the year before that some random RB from Detroit (not Norfleet) run pretty well and then we took a look at who was in on defense and calmed the panic?
If they're going against the 1's, I take note...otherwise it's a practice rep in my mind.