Preview 2017: Running Back

Preview 2017: Running Back

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback.

30684875862_8c95264c44_z

[Eric Upchurch]

[Bolded player rules: not necessarily returning starter, but someone we've seen enough of that I'm no longer talking about their recruiting profile. Extant contributor.]


FEATURE BACK Yr. SHORT YARDAGE Yr. 3RD DOWN YR. SPREAD H YR.
Chris Evans So. Karan Higdon Jr. Ty Isaac Sr.* Chris Evans So.
Karan Higdon Jr. Kareem Walker Fr*. Karan Higdon Jr. Eddie McDoom So.
Ty Isaac Sr.* Ty Isaac Sr.* Chris Evans So. Ty Isaac Sr.*
Kareem Walker Fr.* O'Maury Samuels Fr. Kurt Taylor Fr. Karan Higdon Jr.

Michigan loses their starter but returns 60% of their running back carries, so experience won't be in short supply. Neither will quicks, what with Chris Evans and Karan Higdon emerging into a one-two punch. This is a major shift from De'Veon Smith, a battleship of a back who was great at carrying defensive backs like recalcitrant children but never a visionary.

The nature of these gentlemen is interesting. Most are short, and quick, and clever. Mike Spath gathered this quote at Big Ten media days from an anonymous opponent:

"They have a lot of speed backs now that Smith is gone. They're not going to be a power-running team so I'll be curious to see what type of formations they run. They've got the two guys that could be really good as a No. 1 - Evans and [Karan Higdon]."

This is a sea change from the Smiths and Derrick Greens of the world where how mean you look is priority one. Chris Evans looks like a dang sweetheart, but he's a killer all the same.

RUNNING BACK: KID DON'T PLAY

RATING: 4

31847296192_966779a2db_z

if we're being honest his hair is more Play than Kid [Bryan Fuller]

This is a good preview. It is not an infallible one, as last year's take on CHRIS EVANS demonstrates:

…our bet is the Evans hype is likely to peter out into not very much this year. There are only so many snaps to go around and you know Smith, Isaac, and Peppers are going to get their cuts.

Evans was first amongst equals in the three-man platoon behind De'Veon Smith and is now projected by many to start and have a huge breakout year. That includes this space, and not just because of this:

[Evans] 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.

Dan Murphy confirmed that was no fever-dream of an under-caffeinated parent, uncovering that and yet more Chris Evans coaching exploits. Evans immediately leaps to the front of the Jim Harbaugh 2040 list.

Also the depth chart. Early in camp there were some rumors that Karan Higdon had grabbed the starting job; those were forcefully debunked by both Scout and 247. Evans remains first among equals and should see a plurality—if not a majority—of the carries. His quick hook in the spring game is plenty of evidence in that department:

"I wanted to play more …but they said 'nah, nah, nah, you're not going to play, you're not going to play.'

Also his ability to deploy a sick crossover in a sport that doesn't have them:

Evans breaks ankles. He is superbly agile and able to juke guys in a quick one-two-three step ballet move. He needs little room to pull this off:

In the bowl game he did this literally while in the hole, running through the subsequent arm tackle it set up:

This offseason someone close to the team told me that Evans even had a tendency to juke guys there was literally no way he could see, because he knew what the likely structure of the defense was and what that meant for, say, a safety approaching from the side. He's not just scouting flag football.

This is no doubt part of the reason why Evans seemed immediately more instinctual than De'Veon Smith and Michigan backs since, jeez, Fitz Toussaint. I spent virtually the entire Hoke era complaining about straight-ahead running, bad cuts, and an inability to set up blocks. Evans was a breath of fresh air in that department. He had a feel for how to commit the second level and then burst into a different gap:

Evans was good at putting his foot in the ground after linebackers had decided, and slipping through tight creases in the line. He just knows that he needs to change direction once, and when to make that change:

As a true freshman he's already better at taking advantage of his blocking than anyone who's been in the backfield at Michigan for a minute. And once he gets in the open field it's jockstrap time:

Evans did all he could last year to establish himself as Michigan's top back, and that continued through the offseason:

"He's coached the flag football team. He's held youth camps," he said. "He did that all on his own. His nose was in the playbook all off-season. He put in the work to get bigger. His dedication to taking the next step has been a lot of fun to watch. He's relentless."

While it wasn't all sunshine and roses—Evans made an occasional wacky cut and drew some grumbles around here for going down at first contact too often—it was a freshman year to sit up and take notice of. Numbers adore Evans. Obligatory caveat: they should all come with a big flashing "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE" sign. They are all we have to go on, though, so:

  • Evans is first among returning Big Ten RBs in PFF's "Elusive Rating," which turns a combination of broken tackles and yards after contact to "measure a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers." Ty Johnson and Akrum Wadley are 2 and 3, so the metric passes a basic sanity test.
  • His 4.1 yards after contact were fourth best nationally for freshmen and second in the Power 5.
  • Evans was the second most likely returning Big Ten back to get five yards on any particular run ("opportunity rate") and towards the top of the league in yards acquired after he got to five ("highlight yards"). He's behind only the two Maryland backs in highlight yards per attempt, and was significantly better than the other three Michigan backs last year in all categories.
  • Evans just about swept the RB portion of Michigan's winter combine, winning everything except the powerball throw.

Evans's 40 at the combine was a somewhat alarming 4.64, but I wouldn't sweat that. That might be the first 40 time to ever receive negative FAKES around here. From what we've seen on the field Evans's long speed is at least solid; as a recruit his speed was unanimously declared his best asset, with a significant amount of data backing that up:

A 4.4-ish 40 at the Army Combine just after his junior year is legit. Last March Steve Wiltfong noted that Evans has run a "4.4 hand-held every time" he lays down a 40 yard dash. At Best of the Midwest he ran a 4.37 40, and while that's solidly in the realm of combine fiction Evans's track career was impressive. Tracking Football places him in the 87th percentile of RBs based on his lycra exploits, which include a state championship in the 100 meter relay and a narrow defeat in the regular 100 meter state finals.

Maybe that's a bad run, a dinged up guy, or a typo. I'd be surprised if Evans isn't a legitimate 4.5 guy and, depending on your definition of legitimate, 4.4. But hey, don't take it from me, take it from Drake Johnson, raconteur:

"He's mad athletic. You just see some people and think 'yeah, he's an athlete.' He's an athlete, he just does stuff. He's smooth, he's real smooth. He's like butter smooth, we're just like 'ooh, wow.' He's like *sound effects* someone flips to the side, like he had no chance. Like, I'm sorry you could've tried but it sucks to suck. He just makes it look easy."

(Someone give this man a job talking about things.) Evans's home run ability should be top notch. This doesn't feel like a slow RB:

If he has a problem in this department it would be the ability to turn 40 into 50, and all the evidence outside that 4.64 suggests he'll be fine

Evans's other potential drawback is much more real: pass blocking. He was barely asked to do it last year—14 snaps total per PFF, and when he did it was ugly. He's bigger and older now but still not that big and not that old. He's never going to be Mike Hart. Michigan has a solution and it's one with a lot of upside. Evans:

"I'm coming out of the backfield or in the slot because I'm bigger, but I'm not 230. I can't really step up in the hole and block people. Well, I can -- that's what I've been working on all offseason. [But] we can block with five and send five receivers downfield. Stretch the field out with guys -- the good receivers that stretch the field out. It'll give me more open lanes to run through."

With 91 catches his last two years in high school, Evans was as much a receiver as he was a running back. Michigan entirely neglected to explore that talent a year ago; plenty of spread looks in the spring game suggest they will not continue doing so this year. Webb reports that you should expect him to get more looks thanks to his "outstanding receiving skills" that could have seen him play slot.

Evans should bust out to become one of the Big Ten's best backs, and its most prolific receiver out of the backfield, give or take an Akrum Wadley. He's got the quicks, speed, dedication, and agility to make a great many folks look foolish. You can't project All Big Ten nods in a league where a pretty dang good running back is going to be the 8th-best guy in the conference; Evans should perform at that level.

[After THE JUMP: a cast of thousands! several, anyway. plenty. pedant.]

Unverified Voracity Womp Womp Wuh Womp Eeeeeer

Unverified Voracity Womp Womp Wuh Womp Eeeeeer

Submitted by Brian on August 2nd, 2017 at 11:19 AM

Sponsor note. Are you thinking of doing a business? Are you sick of working at your business factory? Have you purchased a trench coat and a broom and found two like-minded associates willing to make a foray into the unknown?

hoeglaw_thumb[1]

Hoeg Law can help, because ye gods these things get complicated. Rich is currently doing a deep dive on term sheets that includes sentences like these:

You may have noticed in reading the above that we skipped over one bit of language included in the NVCA’s right of first refusal provision:

Can't say that I did, and in this I am reminded of that time I was presenting at an alumni club and someone raised their hand and asked what a "stunt" was. I explained; Hoeg Law will explain.

The "How Much Does Mike Onwenu Weigh" Game! Lookin' svelte, Medium Mike:

As a further demonstration of Onwenu's superdense construction, most of the contributors around here asked people with the misfortune to be around them how much this man weighs, given that he is 6'3". Prepare yourself for Price Is Right horns:

image

I do not know how much Onwenu weighs but… not that. Or within 50 pounds of some of those guesses. Is it weird that I might be more excited to see Onwenu start than guys like Evans and DPJ? I mean, I know what Donovan Peoples-Jones probably looks like on a football field: Braylon Edwards. I have no idea what's going to happen when Mike Onwenu steps on the field. Will they have to offer him snowshoes so he doesn't plunge through the turf? That sort of thing.

Chris Evans, coach. Dan Murphy catches up with Chris Evans's offseason undertakings, which are football and also football:

INDIANAPOLIS -- The little hand on the clock hanging in the gym at Ben Davis High School is creeping toward 8 on a Saturday night in May, and Chris Evans has lost track of the time. One of the parents lingering on the sideline gives him a friendly reminder that dinner hour is whisking past and perhaps it's time to wrap it up. He has, after all, been working with the boys since lunch.

"Oh man, OK. Next touchdown wins," he hollers at the pack of 10-to-12-year-old boys spread out in front of him, then gathers half of them in a huddle. Evans is wearing a blue-collared button-up shirt with his first name sewn on to a patch on his chest and a dark-blue block-M hat, just like the one his head coach Jim Harbaugh wears at Michigan. He's toting a dry-erase clipboard, and he's still using it to draw up plays 30 minutes later when the parents along the wall start making the glances toward their watches a little more obvious. "Last drive," he says. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Evans is trying to squeeze in every rep possible before tomorrow's 7-on-7 tournament, which they've been preparing for all month. Carrie Eller, whose son Gavin is one of the boys on the team, shakes her head and smiles.

"We knew what we signed up for," she says.

They signed up for a guy who signed up for Harbaugh and apparently… is Harbaugh? Caught in a time loop or Quantum Leap kind of situation?

Now I don't have to write this. A tip of the hat to Ty Schalter at the Comeback for rebutting a couple of doofy "Jim Harbaugh wears out his welcome" pieces:

Who, exactly, is Harbaugh “wearing out his welcome” with? Would that be his bosses now coping with full football stadiums, a huge Nike/Jordan brand apparel contract, and figuring out how to spend all of that revenue from the Big Ten’s massive new television deals? Jim Harbaugh may be the best investment Michigan has ever made.

Surely, it must be the underlings working under his tyranny? Assistants are just dying to get away from there. And look how he treats the staff. Inventing the “employee of the year” award and giving it to a custodian. Going out of his way to thank the stadium ushers. It’s an absolute nightmare in Schembechler Hall.

Fans. Gotta be the fans who are upset. One can hear their cries. “Please, Jim. Stop making Michigan one of the coolest programs in the country. Stop being so innovative and energetic. Stop trolling SEC coaches; no one wants that. Stop being relentlessly diligent at your job 365 days per year, seven days per week, 24 hours per day, and for the entire 60 minutes during games.”

Now I don't have to write this identical piece but with more personal insults.

giphy-downsized

this is what giphy usually gives you when you ask it for "Debord"

Anonymous coach quote time. Athlon's annual offer of anonymity in exchange for solid quotes dallies with the ridiculous

"Wilson sold his offense to try and get better talent in there. Besides Ohio State, we didn’t see an offense that had the kind of ceiling Indiana’s did. Mike DeBord runs something that’s as appealing as Wilson’s offense when it comes to recruits. DeBord is so efficient as a coordinator. His offenses show so much confidence and great timing on film. It was a great hire for Allen."

…before arriving at a couple of interesting Michigan bits…

"They want to outwork you. That was the whole satellite camp thing last offseason. He wanted to send a message to the SEC and other schools that he will outwork you to make up for any advantage you might have over Michigan."

"They’re scouting opponents better than anyone in our league. They’re at Alabama’s level of prep and analysis, and as they’ve started to fit talent you’re seeing the effects. It’s hard to surprise them."

…and digging a grave for MSU:

"They’re coming off conference title games, a Rose Bowl, and they’re not in on the top players in their own state in some instances. You can recruit against them easily.

"Jim Harbaugh’s success will directly impact how MSU recovers and maneuvers from here on out. This is a different league than the one Dantonio started in.”

The article contains a bunch of interesting stuff about the rest of the league, as well. An annual Read The Whole Thing.

MLS is happening? Wayne County exec Warren Evans has instructed his staff to focus on the Rock Financial offer to build an integrated criminal justice complex on a site away from the fail jail:

"The Rock Ventures proposal has more upside, less risk and a smaller financial gap than Walsh Construction's proposal. There are, however, many issues to resolve with Rock Ventures before I could recommend the approval of a contract to the County Commission and the County Building Authority."

Among the issues remaining are negotiations over the purchase of city-owned property for a new criminal justice complex built by Rock, and whether the Internal Revenue Service determines whether the county can use bond money left over from the Gratiot jail project to help pay for the Rock Ventures project a few miles north.

Still some hurdles but if they were insurmountable the county would not be proceeding in this direction. Assuming things don't get derailed attention now turns from a stadium plan to the bids currently competing with Detroit. A couple of media members with their ear to the ground think that Detroit is about to jump to somewhere near front of the line:

Sacramento has already broken ground on something destined to be their MLS stadium and is locked in; nobody else is.

This must be 2019 hockey commitment season. Guys are flying off the board left and right to just about everyone, and Michigan's collected another touted prospect in F Dylan Wendt:

He was a third rounder in the most recent USHL draft and the second-leading scorer at the NTDP camp for his birth year. Jeff Cox had him as a maybe for the NTDP:

Dylan Wendt, Grand Haven, Mich., Belle Tire 16U, Right Shot, 5’11”/175 - He’s physically mature and rugged so it’s hard to tell if he’s just dominating at this age because of that, but he’s still worthy of an invite. He has a hard shot and plays heavy on pucks. He can power his way into the scoring areas and wins a lot of battles below the dots. He has decent hands and vision.

He did not make it, but is on the U17 Five Nations team. Sounds a bit like Brandon Kaleniecki plus a couple inches. Now I can embed a very silly goal again:

I'm putting this down here because I'm not going to get invested in it. Canadian RJ Barrett was the top player in the 2019 basketball class. He is now the top player in the 2018 class, and he's going to take an official to Michigan:

Duke, Kentucky, Michigan and Oregon are considered the frontrunners to land Barrett and are expected to host him on an official visit.

Lurking right behind these four schools in his recruitment are Arizona, Kansas, Texas and UCLA.

That official visit is likely to turn into qualified optimism that results in a commitment to Not Michigan.

Etc.: It's weird that 78-0 versus Rutgers is apparently going down in history but here we are. That breathless CTE study in a more sober light. Unstoppable Throw-God Clayton Thorson? Tom Brady owns things. The Pac-12 will experiment with some 15 minute halftimes. Yes please. Hugh Freeze, creeper. Scouting Mo Hurst. UCF kickoff guy meets the long, stupid arm of NCAA law. Fred Jackson at Ypsi High.

Spring Stuff, 2017: Offense

Spring Stuff, 2017: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 17th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

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

34022452206_a29eeae8b9_z

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.

Highlights

Quarterback

33929833052_973895571d_z

[Patrick Barron]

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.

Running back

33928544601_f1da79c02c_z

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

34016446456_df490cb58f_z

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.

xOhSI7s (1)

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.)

33956587031_0dfa7757b6_z

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.

33678589500_6542b9987b_z

no [Bryan Fuller]

Does he look like Jeff Samardadjzijaadfh? Kind of. Except tall!

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.

Offensive line

33220714064_6e06fec351_z

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...

...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.