Dwumfour has a great shot. They're calling him "a bigger Mo Hurst." The other payers rave about him too. But he was injured this spring and wasn't in on all the contact drills, so I'm not ready to call my shot there.
"Bigger Mo Hurst" is very much in the "Mike Hart, but fast!" vein of Fred Jackson hyperbole; I will take plain ol' Mo Hurst every day and twice on Saturday, thank you very much. Dwumfour was one of our key players going into spring, so for him to miss out on all the publicly available time is a major disappointment. At least the things we're hearing are still very good.
So. The two deep is going to feature a freshman nose tackle 99% likely to be named Aubrey Solomon and a freshman weakside end 99% likely to be named Luiji Vilain. If Michigan has to rely on them as much as they relied on Rashan Gary last year that's fine. Solomon is a five-star ready to chip in, and Vilain ended the year not far off from that status. Any injury to the starting line immediately puts Michigan in crisis mode.
This gap is the consequence of the collapse in Brady Hoke's recruiting after it became clear he was not Vince Lombardi and is the difference between Michigan right now and an elite program. It'll take another year or two before Michigan is stacked front-to-back with Harbaugh recruiting classes.
No changes or even much commentary on the linebackers. There's a top three; Webb asserted that he felt a final member of the two-deep would be arriving in fall with the rest of the freshman class. This is obviously not great news for the linebackers already on campus. They have sufficient numbers there that the backup situation will probably be fine; again this is a spot which will require another year or two before they have guys lined up three deep.
Michigan's defensive coordinator doesn't operate in coach-speak, the truth always seems to seep out -- whether he wants it to or not.
And when it came to the question of whether or not he's happy with where cornerback Lavert Hill is heading into Michigan's 15th and final practice of spring ball, he couldn't help but get real.
"No," Brown said Friday after Michigan's practice in Rome, a slight chuckle coming through in his voice.
Lavert Hill missed too much of the spring with minor injuries and the lack of talk about David Long is creeping towards worrying. (Long was one of a few players who did not make the Rome trip, FWIW.) Keith Washington following up that spring game with a major move in fall practice would be most welcome.
Meanwhile reports have Jordan Glasgow as Khaleke Hudson's backup at VIPER(!!!), which is sensible but a wee bit disappointing to your author after his strong performance in the spring game as a safety. He's second string at either position but at safety he is a potential dimeback* like Kinnel was a year ago. As the backup viper that's unlikely. Glasgow continued to impress observers in Rome, FWIW:
After a Brandon Peters 20 yard scramble for a TD... Jordan Glasgow makes a great play to pick off Speight pic.twitter.com/76mQmOfNhk
That is a diving INT on a crossing route, which you don't see every day. Webb noted that they're "thrilled" with Glasgow's emergence as the viper and that between those two guys they're set there. Furbush and Uche come in for mentions as well, which emphasizes the depth at that spot.
At safety the starters are locked in, and then like DL there are major question marks behind them. Michigan did get to see both freshman S as early enrollees, and the injury that held J'Marick Woods out of the spring game did not prevent him from practicing in Rome:
Safety is almost the last place I want to see a freshman heavily involved—QB is #1—so even if Woods and Jaylen Kelly-Powell are promising I'm hoping their deployment is restricted to blowouts. Webb says Michigan will be monitoring grad transfers for a potential backup S—again, if Glasgow can play S it really feels like he should play S.
At least it seems like the starters should be high quality. Tyree Kinnel put in good work in 100+ snaps a year ago and Don Brown is super enthused about Josh Metellus, a "savant".
*[MGoBlog convention is that Michigan is a 4-2-5 base defense so this is equivalent to a nickelback in a 4-3. IE, the dimeback comes in on passing downs.]
What were your initial impressions of the secondary after the spring game?
“After the spring game I thought—I still believe we’re young and talented, but there’s quite a ways to go. Quite a ways to go. On the outside, the young guys were still very critical of the technique we play, especially in our man coverage. So, they’ve got a ways to go even though they should be in high school. We’ve got to change their habits, if you will. So we’re happy, but lot of room for improvement.”
Last week Brian [Smith] was saying that Keith is coming along a little bit but that he was pretty hard on himself, like he’d pick up something, maybe wouldn’t get it again the next time, and was pretty hard on himself. What have you seen out of Keith?
“Yeah, Keith has always been hard on himself. Keith is a competitor, and that’s one thing I always like about Keith. He works his tail off. You gotta remember, he played at quarterback at high school. We brought him over and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make you a cornerback’ in a system that plays press-man 90% of the time, so it’s not an easy thing to do and it’s a tough technique to learn. That’s what he’s trying to do and I think he’s doing it very well.
“I thought he had a heck of a game Saturday. Played really well, was very aggressive, had some nice tackles. He’s come along really well.”
[After THE JUMP: On winemaking, which is not a metaphor. We talked about making actual wine. Also defending fades, but wine, too]
Welp, the backup DTs are a problem. The mere presence of Ron Johnson, who arrived last year as a 245-pound weakside end, on the interior is indication enough. Johnson was bad because it is not possible for a person to go from 245 pounds to a plausible DT in a year. I assume that dalliance will end the moment Michigan's fleet of incoming DTs arrives.
It was slightly more disappointing that neither Carl Myers nor Lawrence Marshall showed much. Myers is a walk-on but hey maybe he was a spiritual Glasgow; that looks really doubtful. A Higdon TD run was largely on Myers getting buried by single blocking. (Spanellis, for what it's worth.) Meanwhile Marshall's added weight and added weight and gone from WDE to SDE to 3T and usually your second position switch is when it starts getting late early. It's late early for him.
Aubrey Solomon is going to walk right onto the two deep, and thank God for that recruiting heist. Mike Dwumfour is going to get playing time by default so let's hope some of that positive chatter is good, and then it would be very nice if another freshman—probably James Hudson—was ready to eat some snaps.
The starters are more or less established and performed as you'd expect. Pass blocking was a major issue not just because of Devin Bush, but these gentlemen. We know what Maurice Hurst looks like as a player. We've got a good idea about Chase Winovich—though he's looking much more DE-sized than a year ago—and Rashan Gary is a given. He stunted inside once on a play that should have caught Michigan's D dead to rights, with Kugler pulling right to him. Gary blew through him to tackle for minimal gain. Dude is scary.
Bryan Mone looked healthy and effective on the snaps he got, so hooray for that. He shed Bredeson a couple times, albeit after giving up some yardage. He is likely to be a downgrade from Ryan Glasgow but with the guys around him he just has to be good for the line to be excellent.
Now encase them in carbonite until fall.
Carlo Kemp looked okay; Rueben Jones didn't show much; Donovan Jeter looks like a guy who will eventually be a DT/3T swing guy a la Wormley.
Mike McCray did not get a starter hook and had significant playing time in which he looked like Mike McCray.
sidewinder has missile lock [Eric Upchurch]
We got extended looks at couple non-starters guys, most prominently Devin Bush. Bush looks like he's benefited a ton from a year of S&C; this has amped up his blitzing, and Don Brown took full advantage. His timing and burst got him through the line frequently, and he is a major problem for RB pickups. He's short, so he's hard to get under. He's thick, so he's got a lot of momentum. He's fast, so also momentum that's how momentum works. The result was a number of blitz pickups that looked good for a moment before falling apart.
Bush's recruiting profile is (for the moment) prophetic:
if you ever thought to yourself "I wonder what Don Brown would have done with James Ross," Bush will answer that question for you.
Hurl him pell-mell over the line of scrimmage to good effect, it seems.
In that context the talk about Mike Wroblewski is probably a positive instead of an indication Michigan has a desperate lack of depth. (See Moundros, Mark.) He looks the part of the heady gritty grit gym rat, but more importantly he plays like it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen linebackers fail to understand what the line slant in front of their face means; here Wroblewski knows that the Gary slant means the ball is likely coming to the gap outside of him, and he fills with aplomb:
It's a simple thing; again I cannot tell you how many times I've shaken a fist to the heavens because a linebacker does not understand the implication of the line call.
Wroblewski's prominence isn't great news for the other inside linebackers currently on the roster. (This exempts Noah Furbush and Josh Uche, who are at SAM.) I don't know what number Jared Wangler is even after my annual "who the hell is that /googles roster" spring game outing. Elysee Mbem-Bosse is 52, and I mostly know that because he got edged on the early Isaac touchdown run.
I assume from the way Don Brown talks that these are the things Robocop does not do. Again, simple thing where you've got to know that you get outside your blocker and funnel back to help, and a thing I've seen not executed time and again. By long-term starters.
I did catch a couple plays I liked from Devin Gil, so he may be an exception.
Meanwhile, Furbush and Uche... I don't know what Michigan's going to do with them. Furbush had one impressive Jake-Ryan-like play on a crack sweep where he blasted through a block to pick off another blocker, but I'm not sure how he fits in Don Brown's defense. We've heard some things about how Uche is going to get some run as a pass rush specialist.
Not a lot of action for David Long or Levert Hill, which is probably a sign they're solid leaders at cornerback. (Or dinged up. Long was out on some kickoffs, FWIW.) Between the two of them they combined for one tackle; when they were out there they were barely targeted.
Washington is now in the conversation [Eric Upchurch]
Amongst folks who played a bunch Keith Washington stood out. I was watching him during a brief period where he was matched up on Donovan Peoples-Jones. He had good coverage on an incompletion, made a tackle after a drag route for two yards, and generally looked in DPJ's league. He added an impressive downfield pass breakup and a couple of "who is that?!" edge tackles when Michigan tried to run it to his side of the field. He was credited for half a TFL on one of those. This one is impressive awareness; I've seen a lot of cornerbacks fail to fall off their WR this quickly and give up ten yards on the edge:
Spring caveats apply. Two years ago Brandon Watson had a press-heavy spring game that featured a couple of impressive PBUs on Moe Ways; since then he's faded to an occasionally-used nickel who usually tackles after a slant is completed on him. His pick six in this game was a very bad decision by Peters he took advantage of; it wasn't paired with other plays that might have moved the needle for him as he tries to battle his way up the depth chart.
Both early-enrolled freshmen looked like they could use some seasoning. Benjamin St-Juste was repeatedly victimized by Tarik Black on quick fades during the John O'Korn-led comeback section of the game. I kind of hated one of the PI calls on him but this is because I am adamantly opposed to underthrow-caused pass interference and cannot be trusted in these matters.
Meanwhile Ambry Thomas looked like a freshman in the way DPJ and Black did not. He's lankier than I expected—"high cut" is the jargon term I believe—and looked spindly. Problematically so. Kareem Walker's impressive touchdown featured Thomas being fended off with ease.
If Washington has made a move like it seems Michigan can afford to redshirt one or both.
here comes the BOOM like it or not now that song is stuck in your head [Barron]
I said in the spring game preview I didn't want Khaleke Hudson to end someone but if there was a walk-on or band member or random civilian who would volunteer to get in a car crash they would be remembered. John O'Korn is none of those; he will be remembered nonetheless.
Hudson also picked up a PBU and a sack in his time on the field and looked sufficiently Peppers-esque for this site's honor and prognostication cred to remain intact for the time being. The emergence of a couple legit safety options and the Khaleke-Hudson-shaped spot in a Don Brown defense means Hudson's found his spot, and I'm eager to see how that works out. Good start.
Those legit safety options are Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow, both of whom showed well. Both guys got over the top of sideline fade routes to get or assist on PBUs. Glasgow stepped in front of a Speight pass for a 101-yard pick six. Less spectacularly but probably more importantly, both guys tackled with authority when called upon to do so. There was one particular open-field Glasgow tackle that was Kovacsian in its textbook solidity. Assumed starter Tyree Kinnel got his share of action as well, leading all players with seven tackles.
The coverage bust on the Gentry touchdown couldn't be traced back to any of those guys since they weren't in the area or on the field, and something Ace mentioned on the podcast was clearest with these guys: there was way less pointing and confusion as Michigan enters year two under Brown. Like the offensive line, these are a bunch of new starters who could be expected to dorf a number of plays. This happened rarely, if at all.
Assertion: no position group put in a more reassuring performance than the safeties. Michigan clearly thinks they have a hidden gem in Metellus and Glasgow turns out to be a Glasgow, so Hudson can slide down, and Kinnel is there to quarterback the whole secondary. This position group looks set to reload, not rebuild.
Houston, we have liftoff [Barron]
It's night and day from two years ago at this time, when people were openly petrified of the kicking situation. Kenny Allen eventually locked that down for two years, and now that he's gone Michigan looks... fine? Very good, even? Kyle Seychel, Ryan Tice, and Quinn Nordin all popped in to blast some kickoffs and groove field goals down the middle. Nordin's 48-yarder was a highlight because it almost cleared the net; I've heard people say that would have been good from 60 and I think this radically undersells what a bomb it was. Look at this thing!
That is a 48 yard field goal that goes over the goalposts. Tailwind or no that is spectacular.
Small sample sizes, of course. One good thing that we haven't heard coming out of the practice rumbles: kicker concern. Maybe they'll be fine. (Maybe they will suffer #collegekickers.)
Punter Will Hart looked okay, averaging 40 yards a kick on 8 punts. He seemed to have excellent hang time and could have gotten some more distance but angled a couple to the sideline. My main concern with him was that it seemed to take a while for him to get the ball off. There were two or three punts on which the crowd went "oooh" because the defense almost returned one to sender.
OTOH, if that could be more about Michigan being consistently good at getting to punts now that would be real nice. Michigan had impact block units last year for the first time I can remember. Maybe they downloaded Jon Baxter's brain into Partridge during the one year he was here.
Returns are an open question and something of a concern after two muffs, one on a punt, one on a field goal. I have a feeling we might come to fully appreciate Peppers's ability to cleanly field all manner of junk fired in his direction when his successor is not Jabrill Peppers. Kickoffs should be fine; they've got enough athletes now that they can just put a DPJ or, heck, Keith Washington back there. Punts are much trickier and disaster-prone. FWIW, Oliver Martin arrives in fall with a reputation for being something of a punt-fielding maestro.
The following folks did not play and are thus unmentioned: Drake Harris, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, Ian Bunting, JaRaymond Hall.
In addition, a few guys got the you're-a-starter hook: Mason Cole, Chris Evans, and Kekoa Crawford were only out there briefly.
A little more feelingsball
HI [Bryan Fuller]
That was fun! I enjoyed it. The weather was terrific and the game was sort of an actual one insofar as OL depth permitted it and there was football to be observed and conclusions to be drawn from that football. At no point did anyone put on a little mesh hat so they could run an hour of kickoff drills.
Jim Harbaugh may be completely unpredictable in many things—he did not talk to reporters after the spring game, oddly—but he's made Michigan football very fun. I appreciated this on Saturday, sitting outside and watching the actual football. So, it seems, did many other people: I've usually just driven to the Crisler parking lot and parked. This would have been impossible on Saturday. The announced attendance (57,000 and change) was a totally made up number but it seemed plausible. What a nice change.
So... this might be a thing. If you recall, last year we entered the spring game expecting John O'Korn to be the starter; there had been some mumbles that Wilton Speight was right in the thick of it that most people discounted because of previous mumbles about how great O'Korn looked in practice. The spring game was an inflection point:
I am now convinced it's a real competition. Wilton Speight only had six attempts, but he completed five of them, confidently. I also had the benefit of observing the Ford Field practice, where nobody seemed clearly ahead of the pack at quarterback. Another piece of evidence in favor of a real competition: no quarterback got a quick you're-a-starter hook. John O'Korn is not a lock.
On Saturday Speight didn't get a you're-a-starter hook. He got a you-threw-a-101-yard-pick-six hook. John O'Korn took over for his team's final two drives, driving for touchdowns on both. Meanwhile, Brandon Peters did this:
One pick six marred an otherwise confident and accurate performance. The two best throws in there are probably the ones to Nate Schoenle, about whom more in a second. The first was a third and long conversion at 4:30 that looks a lot like the guy we saw on Peters's high school tape—unusually, I mean that as a compliment. He's got his guy, he knows it, and he tosses an accurate, catchable ball. Peters's ability to vary speeds is uncanny for a young quarterback, and it's good to see some of that is translating to college.
The second is the Schoenle wheel route to open the winning drive, which is just... dang, man. That's a hell of a throw, and Peters was making it most of the day despite a strong and swirling wind. (The earlier fade down the sideline that Jordan Glasgow got over the top on felt like it had been pushed by that wind.)
Peters moved decisively to get out of the pocket when necessary, scrambled for a touchdown, did not throw into coverage much, and was accurate on all but a couple throws. He looked very plausible at the same time Speight struggled.
As always you do not want to read too much into a disjointed, pressure-laden spring game. Unlike last year's QB competition this one has an incumbent. It's always hard to dislodge a guy who has a season under his belt, especially a guy who was reasonably good last year. Speight finished third in the league in passer rating and #2, Perry Hills, had 18 attempts a game. He's still the starter, probably. The spring game added "probably" to that sentence.
easy for Isaac [Eric Upchurch]
Chris Evans got three carries and then sat for the day, in case you were wondering if he was a sure-fire starter. That's the same playing time De'Veon Smith got last year. Evans looked as shifty as he did a year ago but may have added some extra YAC power; hard to tell in that brief glimpse.
So instead of that let me tell you a thing about Evans: he coaches a local kids flag football team. This in and of itself is odd and very, very Harbaugh. An acquaintance of mine relates that his kid is in this flag football league, and that his game was at 7:15 in the morning, with a potential second game at 9:30 if his kids' team won. Chris Evans is at this game. Not because his team is playing—his team is the one waiting for the winner at 9:30. Chris Evans is... taking notes? Watching intently? Is Chris Evans, starting Michigan running back, scouting a flag football game at 7 in the morning? Yes. Yes he is.
One other Evans-related note: while he didn't participate in much of it, I'd be surprised if the frequent five-wide shotgun looks weren't related to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Hopefully Michigan gets on the good side of that McCray-Dalvin Cook go route matchup this year.
In Evans's absence we got a lot of Karan Higdon (12 carries to lead everyone), Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, and walk-ons. Higdon and Isaac looked like Higdon and Isaac; both were the beneficiaries of the second-team DTs getting consistently gashed. I continue to like Higdon's combination of sharp cuts and low pad level and think he'll a productive #2. Isaac looks fine, but his touchdown was untouched and he didn't make a ton on his own. Walker didn't get a ton of opportunity he did have another run like he did last year where he bounced off some tackles to gain additional yards.
Your walk-on du jour here is Tru Wilson, who was quick through the hole and very small. Very little chance he breaks through the five scholarship guys who will be on campus this fall.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Black can go get it [Eric Upchurch]
The wide receivers are going to be young but that might not matter. Kekoa Crawford got a quick hook and can be penciled in as a starter. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black certainly look the part already. DPJ was held relatively in check by Keith Washington, and I'm already like "impressive job, Keith Washington" when he's been on campus for two years and DPJ has been on campus for two months.
Black played the part of Guy Opposite Dennis Norfleet on O'Korn's touchdown drives, running the same fade over and over against Benjamin St-Juste for completions and flags. Black is bouncy, 6'4", and adjusts well to balls in the air. He's all right. Meanwhile, Brandon Brown got a shot of Nico Collins veritably looming on the sidelines.
The guy behind him to the right is 6'2" Brad Hawkins. Collins is huge. Collins, Black, DPJ, and Hawkins are a veritable fleet of catching-radius guys who can go get contested balls and make quarterbacks right. That is one recruiting class. Also they got Oliver Martin. I'd managed to forget how ridiculous this WR class was.
In the slot, Eddie McDoom was doing McDoom things before an apparently ankle injury knocked him out. On replay that injury didn't seem too bad: there was no plant or twist. Ankle injuries generally don't keep guys out months and months, so he's probably going to be fine this year. Here's hoping, because I don't want to disappoint this guy.
Curse everything in the world that prevents us from selling that.
Also in the slot was walk-on Nate Schoenle, who was on the receiving end of Peters's best throws of the day. One was a tough diving catch on the game-winning drive. At 6'2" Schoenle gives you downfield ability a lot of slots lack and Peters is clearly comfortable with him; I mentioned him as a guy generating buzz before the game and he'll generate more of it now. Nate Johnson didn't get a target, IIRC. Schoenle looks like a real threat for slot PT.
[UPDATE: Johnson did make a catch, fumbling as he fought for extra yardage.]
So with all that it's getting late early for Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Harris did not participate, and for a guy with his injury history facing down this wide receiver class that is tough. Ways did play but not until the second half when the rotation was getting deep indeed. Two of his plays were questionable, as well. He ran a four yard route on third and five; he messed up his footwork so badly on a back-shoulder fade that both of his feet were out of bounds on a potential touchdown. (Ambry Thomas got hit with a flag for holding him, FWIW.)
Eubanks looks the part now [Patrick Barron]
At tight end Nick Eubanks appears to have made a move. He looks like a tight end now, which is step one. He was also targeted frequently. Michigan only found middling success doing so; the sheer number of balls he saw implies he's been making plays this spring. Here he only almost made a play, dropping a tough fade route from Peters after executing a textbook Manningham slow-and-extend to wall off the safety he'd gotten over the top of.
As a recruit Eubanks was regarded as a crazy athlete who needed seasoning. He's probably a year away from delivering on that athleticism; he certainly looks the part now.
Zach Gentry, meanwhile, both does and does not. Does he look like a tight end? No.
no [Bryan Fuller]
Does he look like Jeff Samardadjzijaadfh? Kind of. Except tall!
Zach Gentry is out here at the spring game putting the secondary on skates.
That's a busted coverage and not exactly black-belt receivering but just look at the guy and his long loping strides and ability to shake enough to put not-Kovacs on his butt. Spring reports frequently noted that Gentry fielded a ton of targets, and sure if I'm a quarterback I'll look for the guy who puts Jake Butt's catching radius to shame. I feel a Funchess move coming on.
Ty Wheatley Jr is Michigan's sole remaining Kaiju, and that makes me sad. When I checked out his blocking that made me happy, though. He had another of his catches where he looks implausibly fast for a large man, and with Asiasi's departure he's going to get a ton of PT; he's Michigan's top blocking TE by a mile now and he brings a two-way ability that could be lethal. Just has to develop a bit.
if Runyan could be a real RT candidate that would be nice [Bryan Fuller]
The spring game format seemed designed to keep the defensive line from annihilating everyone and succeed in that regard. The starting line, or close to it, was kept together; the backups mostly got Michigan's second-team DL. And while those second-team DTs are huge alarm bells, that's another post.
This is for this post: I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of defenders swallowing a tailback two yards in the backfield. Setting aside five yards lost when Kareem Walker unwisely decided to reverse field, Michigan backs were TFLed for a total of six yards. That means that the OL was getting its assignments right virtually the whole day. I don't expect that when one OL is playing deep into the regular season; for two to mostly get it right in spring, with all the rotation they've been doing, is impressive. Steve Lorenz keeps bringing up the Ewing Theory in relation to the OL departures...
3. I'm sticking with my Ewing Theory belief on the offensive line's potential in 2017. Ace Anbender at MGoBlog picked out former PWO Andrew Vastardis as a guy who stood out today and I'm inclined to agree. Vastardis was one of three or four PWOs last cycle the staff believed would, not could, be a difference maker sooner rather than later. He's not going to start this season, but he was a good indicator that a lot of guys have improved this off-season. Cesar Ruiz is ready. The pieces still need to be shuffled out, mainly at right tackle, but holes were paved consistently today.
...and I can see that. If Michigan can field a line that doesn't have a guy who runs by first-level defenders on the regular that would be good for their YPC and my blood pressure.
Your starter-ish line was: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with Cesar Ruiz and Andrew Vastardis from the second unit impressing both myself and Ace. Given the context...
Vastardis looks on another level from Myers and Marshall, necessary but not sufficient for PT.
...we shouldn't anoint the guy as Glasgow 4.0 just yet. Straight up dominating some bad players is a good first step, and he did that. Most of Michigan's big runs came when the second-team DL got caved in by the second-team OL.
Also in walk-ons I'd love to get lucky on: ominously-named Greg Robinson has plausible size at 6'6" 290, per a yet-to-be-updated roster, and played a bunch at left tackle. He got blown up on a couple runs and did not seem nearly as fluid as Vastardis.
Ruiz got some run at guard in the second half, FWIW, but Bredeson never kicked out to tackle. These things seem to be contradictory since the OL with Ruiz at guard necessarily has Bredeson at RT. Michigan either 1) thinks Bredeson can't play tackle, 2) thinks he needs all the time at guard he can get to get ready for the season, or 3) thinks a guy on the roster is a capable RT. That latter could be Bushell-Beatty, who we did not see because of injury, or Runyan. Your author is guessing that #2 is the truthiest here, after Bredeson's understandably error-prone freshman year.
Blitz pickups were pretty bad; unclear if that was a tailback issue or a QB issue or an OL issue. Probably some of all three. Blitz pickups in spring against Don Brown and squat missile dude Devin Bush were always going to be a problem. They are a problem. It would only be notable if they were not a problem.
It's the spring game, an annual exhibition in which Michigan plays itself. Under Jim Harbaugh it's been an actual game instead of a barely-tolerated punting exhibition, which has been nice. Offensive line depth issues may make this year's outing rather incomprehensible.
In lieu of the usual preview format, here's a number of storylines to track.
Brandon Peters unveiled
Wilton Speight is the expected starter and will probably see a minimal number of snaps, leaving most of them for backup John O'Korn and redshirt freshman Brandon Peters. Fifth-year senior O'Korn kind of is what he is at this point, and after the Indiana game it's safe to say expectations are modest.
Peters, on the other hand, is the first of what promises to be a long line of Harbaugh-recruited and groomed quarterbacks who are somewhere between Andrew Luck and Andrew Luck (except fast!). While he was on campus last spring he was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman in a five-way quarterback melee; this will be a much longer look at him, and one more indicative of the kind of quarterback he'll become.
BEST CASE: Internet legions clamor for Peters after every Speight incompletion because he goes 18/22 with a couple of pretty fade routes.
WORST CASE: Internet legions clamor for Peters after every Speight incompletion despite Peters looking like a shell-shocked youth in the jaws of Rashan Gary for the duration of the spring game.
Also unveiled: next-gen skill position players
Michigan lost four of their five skill-position starters to graduation. They're also missing Grant Perry due to a court issue and lost Devin Asiasi to a transfer. Questions abound.
They're least severe at tailback, where three of the four guys in last year's rotation are back. Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon, and Chris Evans have all demonstrated who they are over the course of the season and only minor tweaks are likely. Evans is the most likely to make a leap forward since he is going from a freshman to not that; he's also got two ways to impress. One is by adding a little De'Veon Smith to his game and breaking some arm tackles. The second is by adding a bunch of slot receiver snaps. Evans played slot a ton in high school, and was not just a screen threat. He was capable downfield as well. Getting that back on the college level would give Michigan's offense a ton of flexibility.
Isaac and Higdon are probably going to look like Isaac and Higdon, so the next-most intriguing guy is redshirt freshman Kareem Walker. Walker nearly transferred after some academic issues but stuck it out and started delivering on his recruiting hype during "Christmas Camp"; scattered reports have him continuing to impress. He figures to get extended run as Michigan sits veterans.
At wide receiver, the storyline is obvious: Donovan Peoples-Jones. The five-star has arrived to find an opportunity, and when the pads went on he immediately started people a-rumblin' about his freaky athleticism and relatively advanced knowledge of the playbook. He's very much a work in progress since Cass Tech had him run about three routes, one of which was "run faster than everyone"; maybe that still works though?
I'll also be interested to see how Michigan's sophomore WRs look. Kekoa Crawford got a fair amount of run last year and is assumed to be one of the starters. In those limited snaps he was a Darboh/Chesson-level blocker, had one bad drop, and one spectacular catch:
He's been gathering whatever buzz is left over after people stop talking about DPJ and is a good bet to emerge. Meanwhile, Eddie McDoom and Nate Johnson are both flashy slot types who will have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills as the enter year two. That's often a critical breakpoint for WRs.
At tight end it's really really time for Ian Bunting to emerge what with Jake Butt and Asiasi gone, and Ty Wheatley is another guy at a critical breakpoint: his blocking was half great, half terrible last year and he needs to start moving 10-20% of his terrible blocks into the other category.
BEST CASE: DPJ is Christian Kirk and Chris Evans is Captain Kirk.
WORST CASE: There's really no "worst case" for the tailbacks, who are more or less proven plus players as a unit. DPJ looking too raw to play and the tight ends having crappy blocking days would be bummers.
Can the tackles be salvaged?
It seems like Mason Cole returning to left tackle is a foregone conclusion at this point, and that makes him more interesting than an established starter usually is. Cole was an elite run-blocker as a sophomore but struggled against top-shelf pass rushers. Has that changed at all? Can he check Chase Winovich, who was extremely productive in limited snaps last year? Can he fend off Rashan Gary? Survey says maybe and probably not.
Everyone else playing tackle will be auditioning for a job. Juwann Bushell-Beatty is your tentative starter, and that's a worry. After Newsome went out JBB got some time at left tackle. Things went poorly, against, like, Rutgers.
Bushell-Beatty gave up pressure on 17% of his opportunities?
More or less. That protection number is alarming and Bushell-Beatty's performance was most of it. Other starting OL gave up one hurry-type substance when Braden had some difficulty with a blitzer. Bushell-Beatty was beat clean twice. One time he managed to hold a bit and get away with it on a pass that Speight missed on. The second time he did get hit with the hold.
That's two ole blocks on just 15 pass protection snaps against Rutgers. I am really skeptical he can put it together and strongly prefer a move back to Cole at LT with Kugler coming in. Cole did struggle against top end rushers last year. He did not struggle against Rutgers.
Rutgers is Rutgers and Rashan Gary is Rashan Gary. I'll be pleasantly surprised if JBB doesn't get overrun. I'm surprised that Michigan hasn't tried Ben Bredeson on the outside yet, because of all the guys on the roster he's the best combination of plausibility and experience; you could interpret that as JBB optimism but I'll have to see it to believe it.
Meanwhile all pursuers look to be well behind the curve. Nolan Ulizio might be your best bet amongst folks already on campus if only because he is tackle sized and was hit with mono a year ago, so he could have a major bounce.
BEST CASE: Cole looks very good and JBB is functional.
WORST CASE: Cole is still the sophomore version of himself in pass pro—which isn't the worst—and it's extremely obvious that Michigan is plugging in a true freshman at RT this fall.
BEST CASE: MEAT
WORST CASE: meat
An explanation of the previous section
You author is slightly unhinged about the possibility of a Ruiz/Onwenu pairing on the offensive line, which promises to deliver almost 700 pounds of meeaaaaaaaaat meatmeatmeat into the face of opposition defenders.
It's time for Rashan Gary to move into the starting lineup, which is good for Michigan and bad for opponents. Gary performed well enough in limited time last year that even if he remained totally static Michigan would have an honorable mention All Big Ten kind of player; he will not remain static. I'm at the point where I assume he'll be a beast and am hoping Cole can check him a bit, because that's more of an unknown.
A starting lineup of Gary-Hurst-Mone-Winovich is going to be amongst the best in the nation, with two guys all but guaranteed to be performing at first-round-pick levels and Winovich, who had 5.5 sacks a year ago on maybe 20% of Michigan's snaps. Mone's still a bit of a mystery because of his injury issues but his floor is "all right, nothing special" and surrounded by these guys that'll be enough.
It's the dudes beyond the starters that cause some concern. There's been a little positive chatter about Carlo Kemp and early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter, and not much else. There's an APB out for Lawrence Marshall and Mike Dwumfour has missed much of the spring with some minor injuries. Projected WDE Ron Johnson playing on the interior this spring should give you an indication of what the depth looks like there.
A horde of guys arrive in the fall. Right now this looks like an opportunity for a Heininger or a Glasgow to emerge. If Michigan's renewed emphasis on their walk-on program could pay off here that would be real nice.
BEST CASE: Kemp looks like a legit SDE option. That wouldn't give Gary more rest, it would allow him to take snaps on the interior instead of "I dunno." Also a walk-on steps up?
WORST CASE: I mean maybe Michigan won't have to play backup DL because the starters get an infinite series of three-and-outs.
Is Wrobocop a real thing?
Linebacker is two spots and pretty simple: Mike McCray is one starter and the other will be either Devin Bush or walk-on Mike Wroblewski. Expect no clarity on this point coming out of the game because Bush and Robo—I'm done typing that whole thing out, sir—appear to be linebackers for different offenses. Bush can get sideline to sideline and cover downfield; Robo is the hard-nosed A-gap plugger that will come in handy against Wisconsin and MSU.
BEST CASE: We've got a new Glasgow/Kovacs.
WORST CASE: Robo is athletically limited and his prominence is a worrying thing about the LB corps.
Hudson(#7) blocked two punts last year
The best news coming out of spring practice from the perspective of bloggers who have been relentlessly hyping up one 3.5* LB/S for a year and a half is the configuration of the new secondary. This features Khaleke Hudson as your VIPER(!!!) and it's time to go get that quote from his recruiting profile again:
"He is the best combination of strength, speed and burst I've seen in a long time," said Ruane. "Every tackle, run and block is violent with him. He will be playing on Sundays someday. And I'm happy he's graduating."
I don't necessarily want Hudson to demonstrate that in an intrasquad scrimmage... but if there's a walk-on who wants to take a very large one for the team we will remember you.
Hudson is the exact same size as Peppers and showed similar burst as a high school player. He's not Peppers, but...
BEST CASE: ...he's basically Peppers.
WORST CASE: oh honey no, shhh, he's basically Peppers
Michigan is sending three CBs to the NFL this year if someone gets wise about Jeremy Clark, and into their shoes step three more—maybe four. David Long, Levert Hill, Ambry Thomas, and Benjamin St-Juste are all contending for that vacated playing time, and there's considerable hype for all four. Long and Hill are sophomores and the presumed starters. How sticky are they? How reliable? Survey says pretty damn sticky and ask again later.
BEST CASE: They're basically Lewis.
WORST CASE: Hill is still liable to bite too hard on double moves and ends up giving up a couple long ones; St-Juste and Thomas aren't ready; Long still pretty good.
Did not exist in last year's spring game. God bless Jim Harbaugh.
Karan [Higdon] mentioned you had him watch a lot of NFL tape. Were there any teams you spent time with this offseason or any coaches you worked under?
“I’m close with the Baltimore Ravens’ running backs coach Thomas Hammock but no coach in particular, no team in particular. More so plays, finding NFL examples of plays that we run and just looking through different scenarios, different things that our guys could end up seeing. Just trying to get a lot of experience, mental reps, in terms of watching the pros.”
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you in terms of going with another position?
“That’s a tough question. I mean, it’s all different so I don’t know if there’s a ‘biggest’ adjustment, but new guys and everything but they’ve been great to work with. They’re all working really hard and it’s a really, really good group. Nothing stands out as being any bigger adjustment than anything else.”
How much do you lean on what you saw out of these guys last year or did you come in [with a] clean slate?
“Yeah, none. None at all. It’s a clean slate. I mean, I knew what those guys were because you see them play and everything, but it’s a new season and a relatively new offense in terms of all the things that we’ll do. So, it’s kind of a fresh start for everybody.”
You came in having never coached this position before. Did you play running back at all?
“No. I’m sure you could guess that just by looking at me. I carried the ball a few times growing up. I scored on one, just for what it’s worth.”
[After THE JUMP: development in RB protections, the evolving offense, and what to watch in the spring game]
Tyree Kinnel has been playing free safety and Josh Metellus has been playing Rover (strong safety). If the season started today, those are your starters
Rotating guys is always an option; Kinnel and Metellus played both positions last year (and Metellus played some VIPER, too)
The biggest challenge for Smith this spring has been getting the safeties to “open up and communicate.” The natural ability is there, but their communication skills (i.e. getting everyone lined up) are being refined.
How enjoyable has it been for you this spring with all the new faces you’ve had to coach and get used to?
“It’s been really enjoyable. Like you said, we’ve had a lot of new guys in the room, a lot of young guys that don’t have much experience, but they’re eager to learn. They’re starting from square one so they’re listening to everything you tell them. They’re holding on to it, so it’s been good so far.”
Who has stood out?
“Well, from the safety position, I think J’Marick Woods has had an outstanding spring. He’s kind of earning his nickname; we call him Woods because he brings the wood. He’s a physical player, he’s a hitter…I mean, he’s what you look for back there. He’s got good range and some other things he needs to work on still, but he’s shown a lot of potential and enthusiasm for the game.
“Jaylen Kelly-Powell, he’s done a nice job. He comes in from a good high school program. He’s been well-coached. He’s really technically sound for a young defensive back. His man-to-man skills are definitely there. They flash. He’s done a nice job so far.”
For Khaleke [Hudson] and Josh [Metellus], for them to be kind of moving back and forth between safety and that VIPER position, does that help them or does it hurt them not being able to focus on one spot?
“I think it helps them. After last year having a whole season under their belts just playing one position for Khaleke, now having to play another position, I think it gives him a better understanding of the defense. You know, once you play different positions, things start to make sense and they come together. You see the big picture. I think it’ll help them definitely in the long run. I think VIPER’s a good position for him with his physical traits, Khaleke, and I think he’s done a nice job so far.”
[After THE JUMP: the differences between a Rover and VIPER, and what the staff looks for when recruiting those positions]
Headline news is not at all surprising: Rashan Gary is like dang. Palpable excitement from the coaches about getting to line up Gary next to Maurice Hurst and God help anyone assigned to block those guys on a stunt. Or not on a stunt. Gary remains extremely coachable and is on track to deliver on that #1 overall recruit hype. The end. Gary talk this year == Peppers talk last year. Everyone knows he's coming so it's almost beside the point to mention it.
"Rashan's a great person to definitely model your game after and follow up," Kemp said. "Especially because he goes in there, sets the tempo. For me, backing him up, I want to be as close as I can that there's no dropoff. When Rashan's in, we already know what he can do, and then when I come in I try to mimic his game a lot, so that when he's in and I'm in, it looks the exact same."
That would be nice. Kemp has impressed the coaches after a rough start that was partially because he was being played out of position at linebacker. (Remember that Michigan had a crisis at LB before the emergence of McCray last year.) Kemp on his interactions with Don Brown:
"He said when we first started spring ball 'I don't even know who this guy is anymore, last year I'd have traded him away for two used footballs' " Kemp said. "So that felt good. Last year I might have done the same thing, traded me away for two used footballs.
"Maybe we're up to three this year."
Kemp has the bloodlines and good size (265 now, probably approaching 280 by fall) so backup snaps at the anchor should be relatively productive. Early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter is also impressing, and right now he and Kemp are both wearing #2. Winner gets to keep it, I guess?
At the other end, Chase Winovich has added another chunk of weight as he attempts to replace Taco Charlton; hopefully this will allow him to hold up against the run while not sapping his ability to get around the corner. All weight gain or loss is good in the spring. Haven't gotten anything about the folks pushing Winovich on the depth chart so that might be a spot of worry. Jeter is probably more of a SDE/3T than a weakside end.
DT starters are established and I cannot tell you anything about them that you don't already know. Mo Hurst should be an All-American with increased playing time and the shiny stats he racks up. Everyone is waiting for Bryan Mone to finally display the potential people have chattered about for years. Chatter remains the same on Mone, and he did flash talent late in the year. If he can stay healthy dot dot dot.
Very thin on the interior with few of the freshmen on campus yet and Michael Dwumfour frequently limited with minor issues. As a result Michigan is experimenting with redshirt freshman Ron Johnson on the interior, which is very much a work in progress. Johnson arrived as a 245-pound edge rush type. I would interpret that as distress about backup DTs. Lawrence Marshall is also on the interior and has not drawn much buzz.
Depth is a concern. Starters should be bonkers.
Mike McCray is an obvious starter and looks like you'd expect. Leader, thumper. Michigan's offense isn't of the variety that frequently tests McCray's main 2016 weakness—operating in space—so I assume you're going to get a lot of very positive reports on him that are about the stuff he was already excellent at, and we'll have to wait for live fire this fall to see if he's made progress on the downsides.
The other spot was presumed to be Devin Bush, but don't sleep on Mike Wroblewski, who keeps getting brought up by Don Brown for a reason. Wroblewski is an "A-gap player," which means he's a guy to take on fullbacks and hammer the interior run game but might be limited in sideline-to-sideline range. He's taken over some of the calls from McCray, which is quite a thing to do when you're taking them from a returning starter and fifth year senior who is presumably going to be a captain. He is on the two deep, legitimately.
Bush is also very much in the mix and will at least rotate through a la Gedeon when he was the third guy behind Morgan and Bolden. He could start, as well—he seems a much more natural fit for Michigan's forays against spread offenses.
FWIW, one report that Ben Mason "looks the part" at LB, so they are giving him his shot there and he may yet defy this site's oft-stated opinion that he's destined for fullback. Redshirt freshman Josh Uche Is "laying the wood" a lot and should get some playing time this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist, with a productive career in the offing.
The VIPER(!!!) spot is addressed in the next section because it should be.
Michigan looks set to go with a three safety look again—the defense is a bonafide 4-2-5 and we should get used to it—in a slightly different configuration than last year. This is not insider chatter but rather something the coaches have directly stated:
"We'll see in the Spring Game how those guys line up in live competition, but right now Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, those guys are leaders of the pack [at safety] in my eyes," Smith said. "They've done a good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."
Tyree Kinnel is your free safety and will play the Dymonte Thomas role; Josh Metellus is the strong safety and will replace Delano Hill. Both are heady and "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which is music to your author's ears. All hail boring safeties, with a side of Metellus thumping people in their earholes.
Meanwhile many reports have it that Khaleke Hudson is your leader at VIPER(!!!) and will seek to replicate Jabrill Peppers. Hudson was a bit slow picking up coverages per a couple people; he is physically capable of the slot coverage that Hill was so good at a year ago, and as he gets increasingly comfortable people in his vicinity have a tendency to get "jacked up," as the kids say. One report notes he's making a number of spectacular, freaky plays. As we've asserted about Hudson since he popped up on our radar, he's not Peppers but he's basically Peppers. The emergence of Metellus gives Michigan the opportunity to use him in that spacebacker spot he was born to man.
Meanwhile in news I find very important indeed, people think J'Marick Woods has a nickname but he does not.
Brian Smith says J'Marick Woods has stood out to him this spring. Says he's earned his nickname of "Woods" - is a big hitter
This aggression against nicknames will not stand. That is just his name. Hockey nicknames that are "last name followed by -y" are bad enough. Come back when you've named him "Scooter" or "Booger" or "Dump Truck." Preferably all three.
All systems go for David Long and Lavert Hill, who have been gathering extensive praise as physical, sticky corners. Hill is currently stickier but Long isn't far off. When the projected starters are in it's been difficult for Michigan's receivers to get separation.
There is a significant dropoff after those two, with Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas currently drawing the most mention. There's no such thing as a second unit yet, of course; those two guys are a nose ahead of the pack after the starters. Watson was meh as a slot corner a year ago and is past the age where rapid progress is likely; I assume he'll have a role similar to last year's unless he gets passed by Thomas right out of the gate. Survey says: possible.
Overall, practice insiders are positive about Michigan's ability to weather all the departures. Don Brown's said as much publicly, and privately he's saying basically the same things: there's no reason this defense shouldn't be in the same ballpark as last year's. #1 is a tough ask because of randomness and whatnot, but Don Brown has put together top end defenses without having a guy like Rashan Gary. He remains a hard-boiled cop one day from retirement in a candy store.
Hello. Here are some spring practice items. Please read responsibly: these are impressions from a couple of practices, not even a whole spring session. The latter is notoriously unreliable; the former is even more so. Even if everything in here is the gospel truth the rest of spring and fall camp will change the picture considerably.
Not a lot of intrigue: Wilton Speight is an unchallenged #1. John O'Korn is still a nose ahead of Brandon Peters for second-team snaps. Peters is flashing talent but is still behind the veterans with his command of the offense. He will offer a little dual threat if and when he ascends to the starting job. Speight's been up and down early.
Similar situation here: Chris Evans is the guy. He's added a little muscle—up to 212 at the latest—and has full command of the offense. He knows why he's doing the things he's doing, and occasionally makes spooky jukes based on his anticipation of the situation. Breakout year is likely.
Because it's running back Michigan will rotate a bunch. Various reports note that Ty Isaac is looking good and Kareem Walker is coming on, which continues a theme from Michigan's bowl practices. Higdon has been limited with a minor injury.
Kingston Davis's decision to transfer was his alone—Michigan was already at 85 before his departure—and is likely because he was fifth on the depth chart with more guys arriving this fall and it was fullback or nothing for him. This should be a very deep and good platoon.
Wide receiver & tight end
One of the biggest questions entering spring: who is the #1 receiver? Early returns are very encouraging about Donovan Peoples-Jones. Top five receivers are immediate impact guys about 33% of the time, and Peoples-Jones looks to be in that group. It took him just a few practices to establish himself. He's also got a minor injury and hasn't been in pads for a few days but that hasn't stopped the rumbles.
Kekoa Crawford lacks DPJ's explosiveness—as do most humans—and looks about like he did when he got on the field this year: very good blocker, big target, good routes. Strong belief he can be a quality #2 receiver this year, and an okay #1 if necessary.
With Grant Perry still being held out, Eddie McDoom is getting a long look in the slot and "doing McDoom things," which I interpret to mean breaking tackles on end-arounds. A surprise name is Nate Schoenle, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Ann Arbor. Schoenle has good size—listed at 6'2" on the roster—for a slot and when he committed his coach thought he had a shot:
“Nate’s a late bloomer but his upside is pretty steep, so they’re getting a pretty good preferred walk-on candidate,” said Gabriel Richard coach Mike Girskis. “He’s got fantastic speed, decent size and he’s working really hard in the weight room. His potential is exceptionally high from what I can see; I think he’s going to start as a project and wind up a steal.”
Girskis has called Schoenle the best receiver Gabriel Richard has had, citing his 40-yard dash time of below 4.5 as proof of his ability to excel at the college level. He also said his high academic scores are evidence of his capabilities as a quick learner.
Those academic scores were enough to get him pre-admitted to Ross. He's making the most of his opportunity. Slot is a place where 'Bama's running out Oregon State and BGSU transfers, so Schoenle's in the right spot to make an impact as a walk-on. There's one report that's not sure who #29 is; a dollar says it's Schoenle.
Folks who have been intermittently available include Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Tarik Black has also sat out some; when he's in he's a tough cover with his size and physicality. He's a contested-ball guy at worst with some long speed upside.
At tight end (or maybe wide receiver), Zach Gentry has been making a ton of catches early with the second unit. Nate Eubanks is getting a significant amount of run, some problem with drops. With Asiasi gone, TJ Wheatley is getting first team reps—Bunting's been held out some. Wheatley looks like a terrific receiver but his blocking remains a work in progress.
Ruiz is key
As always, difficult for sideline observers to discern much about the most complicated spot on the field but one thing seems clear: Mason Cole is going to move back outside. Michigan is running Patrick Kugler, Cesar Ruiz, and redshirt freshman walk-on Andrew Vastardis at center, and while Cole has probably taken some reps there all the reports I have talk about him on the outside with various mentions of the other three guys at center.
Kugler is leading right now but the Ruiz hype is real. Like Mike Onwenu he's shed a significant amount of weight and is still stunningly large for an underclassman: he's at 320, down from 340, and people expect him to push his way into the starting lineup sooner or later.
Onwenu, meanwhile looks the part, "bullying" various folks lined across from him. You can mark his name down in pencil as a starter.
Right tackle is currently Juwann Bushell-Beatty, with Bredeson sticking inside at guard. I assume they'll look at Bredeson on the outside if they think Ruiz and Kugler can play together; this is not based on any practice reports but rather your author's charting of last year's OL.
OL numbers are currently very low with a couple of guys not in pads, with a significant number of walk-ons on the second unit. Michigan of course tried to recruit a bazillion OL last year, and until the rest of the folks arrive in fall it's going to be patchwork.