SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). It's right next to the train tracks on Hoover. The band goes right by it on their way to the stadium, which is cool. Say hi.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan stuck to the four man front for almost the whole game, with just a few attempts to play a 3-3-5. The Rush package remains unchanged after Gary's return. Michigan did have some exotics, one a 3-1-7(!) alignment with two vipers and Bush out there on third and ten. This was the Glasgow sack.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Massive rotation across the front with even Chase Winovich bowing out on occasion. Gary's return and his absence from the rush package amped up a rotation that is ten guys deep now: Gary, Winovich, Mone, Kemp, Paye, Marshall, Solomon, Dwumfour, Uche and Hutchinson (sort of). As a result everyone save Winovich saw maybe half of Michigan's snaps. Also Donovan Jeter got in late.
LB was the standard: Bush and Hudson all the time, Ross and Gil splitting WLB snaps with Ross having an edge, and assorted cameos from Glasgow and Furbush. Ditto the secondary. Woods was the only backup S to get in, interestingly.
[After THE JUMP: the lamentation of their message boards]
SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). It's right next to the train tracks on Hoover. The band goes right by it on their way to the stadium, which is cool, it supports charity, there's pizza and barbecue and beer, and the GameDay crew might stop by. Say hi.
FORMATION NOTES: Most notable development was the near-elimination of 3-3-5 snaps: just six, all of them on passing downs. Maryland ran a bunch of stuff from under center to facilitate their jet sweep game, and brought out a lot of pistol diamond formations when Piggy was in.
Nothing worked until real late.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: With Gary absent and Dwumfour exiting in the first half, the DT rotation was mostly Kemp, Mone, and Marshall. Jeter and Myers came in late. At DE, Winovich was his usual omnipresent self until the final two drives. Paye got the bulk of the Gary snaps with about 10 from Hutchinson and 10 more during the backups portion of the game.
At LB, Bush and Hudson nearly omnipresent. Gil and Ross back to splitting about 50/50, with the usual ten or so snaps from Uche and Furbush. Secondary the usual.
It's a simple job. You just get out there and replace Mo Hurst, the most disruptive defensive tackle in recent program history. That thing where he drills your face into the chest of the center and comes out through the ear of the right guard: do that. The part where he teleports past a double team: do that. The bit when he rubs his belly after a good play: do that.
Okay, good to hear that we've got the third one down. Now, about the rest?
THREE-TECH: TOOT-TOOT HERE COMES THE NO PRESSURE EXPRESS
MIKE DWUMFOUR [recruiting profile] has one of the most believable offseason hype trains in recent memory. This is in part because it started last year, when nobody on earth would have batted an eyelash at vacuum-of-space level silence regarding a three-star redshirt freshman, who many assumed was just a Rashan Gary sweetener, playing behind Mo Freakin' Hurst. And yet:
A few months back when we talked with someone close to the team about up and coming youngsters, Dwumfour was brought up first and foremost. That talk has been reinforced since. Sam Webb relays that Dwumfour is the talk of the defensive line's next generation, Non-Gary division. Because you may remember him from such players as:
The same explosive get-off [as Hurst], but with a bigger frame. His teammates love his athleticism and think he has definite future pro potential.
Dwumfour's recruiting profile does use Hurst as the You May Remember Me From Such Players As because the recruiting industry described Dwumfour as a great first step in search of a backfield to be all up in; because Dwumfour's somewhat modest 6'2" 280-pound frame was reminiscent of Hurst; and because Hurst came to Michigan a badly underhyped recruit relative to the finished product. A Penn State commitment was the main argument for the latter then. Even now that's still a good sign.
Meanwhile last year's hype has been double down upon. Dwumfour was the heir apparent at three tech the moment Hurst played his final game and nothing since has caused even a slight waver in those assessments. Both Mattison and Brown have talked him up without reservation. Mattison wasn't just satisfied with comparing him to Hurst, but had to go one step farther:
"The strength staff has been another HUGE factor for him. He has now lost some of that excess weight that he didn’t need and added muscle. And his quickness has been much, much better. ... both [Hurst and Dwumfour] are very quick twitch. Both are very, very quick off the football. Both are same height-wise (and) both have the same leverage. I think there are a lot of comparison between the two, Michael might even be a little broader (and) a little thicker. And at this age he might be a little ahead of where Mo was.”
And the capper is something I've brought up a few times this offseason. I was talking with Ira Weintraub at WTKA; Ira helps out with the Harbaugh podcast. On one episode Harbaugh had finished his bit and left the room. He came back, sat down, and told Ira to ask him about breakout players specifically so he could talk up Mike Dwumfour. All right. Sold.
That said, Dwumfour did get some snaps behind Hurst last year and has yet to set the world on fire. After Penn State I mentioned him briefly:
Dwumfour was ineffective. He got stood up at the line on a couple plays when a bit of penetration from him was likely to be a TFL because of Hurst getting in the backfield.
I keep an eye out for new-contributor clips specifically because they're useful in these posts but don't have anything for him except this against Purdue:
Which is indeed vaguely Hurst-ish; not many nose tackles have that range. Other than that, nope. That's a handful of snaps as Hurst barely came off the field last year and not enough to slow down the HYPE TRAAAAAIN... much.
For the record, I find the hype train mostly convincing but not entirely so. You don't just get Mo Hursts rolling off the assembly line. It is worth noting that the 2015 version of this post—the same point in Hurst's career as Dwumfour is now—listed Hurst as Ryan Glasgow's backup and noted his explosive spring game and the chatter surrounding it. It then tried to slow things down a bit:
Hurst was also the breakout star of last year's open scrimmage, where he destroyed the second-team OL. Then he disappeared, registering three tackles as a freshman. Clearly the step up in competition represented by bigger, better OL was a problem for him. At least this year he made a number of plays against Braden and Glasgow.
The not-so-hot year two is not a disqualifying factor for a Hurst-alike. Hurst had the luxury of being an explosive backup, though, and had a year of relative shelter before becoming the all-encompassing Man. Dwumfour will get put in stickier situations and have some problems holding up, like Hurst occasionally did early in his career. Michigan's hope is that he translates all the talk to a bunch of backfield excursions. That's more likely than not. Choo-choo.
[After THE JUMP: a palpable three deep at both spots]
The 6-foot-5 Gary is at the same weight he was at this time last year — 287 pounds — and his 40-yard dash time is the same at 4.57 seconds. His 3-cone drill at 6.79 was a touch behind last year’s 6.70, although his time this year still would beat every defensive lineman at this year’s NFL scouting combine. His 4.22 pro agility shuttle time also would top every D-lineman at the combine. Next best was 4.32. Another really impressive feat: his 10-4 broad jump, which was 8 inches better than what he did a year ago.
Incoming freshman Julius Welschof is #37 because he's very flippy. Three different Badgers (Olive Sagapolu, Jonathan Taylor, and D'Cota Dixon) make the list as well. If Hornibrook stops throwing so many picks, could be a breakthrough for the Badgers.
(Probably) nothing to see here. The Big Ten Network is up for renewal on the Comcast, and as is standard practice there is now a dual-sided PR campaign going on. BTN's like "dang!" and Fox is like "I mean cumong," and that's what's going on right now in these streets. Wetzel:
...cable giant Comcast is threatening to pull the Big Ten Network (as well as FS1, which shows league games) off basic cable packages. It already did outside the league footprint on second-tier packages. Now it is saying BTN will no longer be on basic cable in communities in the league area as of September 1.
Hence, Silverman’s alarm.
“BTN is now facing our biggest challenge since the launch of the network,” Silverman said at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “Our 10-year agreement with Comcast expires at the end of August. A few months ago, BTN was removed from out-of-market cable systems on Comcast, which is the leading cable provider in the country. … It’s extremely concerning.”
This strikes me as much ado about nothing. While Wetzel points out that cable's monopoly is mercifully crumbling and there's pressure to keep bills down, I have a hard time believing Comcast is going to send a significant section of its Big Ten footprint subscribers into a contemplation of cord-cutting. A deal will be reached at the last minute, both sides will claim victory, and the slow bleed of cable subscribers to over the top services will not get a sudden kick in the pants.
[After the JUMP: employees, monkeys... really too long spent talking about monkeys]
We often hear about service academy offenses. How difficult is it of a challenge to prepare for them?
“Defending option football and conventional football at the same time. That’s what we’ve been studying. Air Force has been very successful. Seven, eight, nine game winning streak. They go back and forth between conventional and option football.”
Your defense is scoring a lot, more than they’re giving up. Is that something that has been emphasized? Is that just guys making plays? How do you account for that?
“It’s a good thing. Very good players and a good scheme and they work very hard at being good on defense.”
Talk about your impressions about Lavert Hill. I know you’ve been happy with him.
“Yeah, been happy with Lavert. He’s asserted himself and played very well. Made the big play for us in the ball game this past week.
“Tyree Kinnel would be another person that I’d spotlight; defensive player of the game; sacks, two I believe; tackles for loss; interception for touchdown; seven tackles total, I believe. Well done. Brandon Watson also had a couple PBUs and played very well. Josh Metellus did good. Up front, I thought Rashan had one of his best games. Devin Bush again, another very good game for him; sack, tackle for loss, PBU. Outstanding game by him. Chase Winovich. Noah Furbush was better. Mo Hurst probably played the best of all of our upfront defensive players.
“So, there was a lot of good. Dodged a couple bullets. As was pointed out, scored two touchdowns on defense, so we’re doing well. We’re good. Attribute that to hard work and good scheme and good players.”
How has Lavert—how have you seen him digest all the information that a young starter has to digest?
“Yeah, doing well. Seeing him digest information very well. Comes from good stock. You’d love to be Lavert Hill Sr., to have Delano Hill playing professional football and now here you see Lavert in there starting at corner, making plays, helping his team win. Lavert Hill Sr.’s probably boring the heck out of the neighbors with how well his sons are doing.”
[Learn how to avoid emotionally hijacking Jim Harbaugh after THE JUMP]
Here too the departures don't really start to bite until you dig down into backup snaps. Mo Hurst was the best interior DL on the team last year and one of the best in the nation despite being a very nominal backup; Bryan Mone was productive late and as a fourth-year player with plenty of recruiting and post-recruiting hype he projects as an above-average starter.
Backup snaps do happen, especially when your starting nose is a mountain, and those are all going to freshmen. The right kind of freshmen, at least.
NOSE TACKLE: TONGAAAAAAAAA
Now is the time for BRYAN MONE [recruiting profile]after two injury-hampered years. He missed the entirety of 2015 and went down in the opener last year. While he did return, he saw scanty snaps behind ironman Ryan Glasgow. When he did get in his play was indifferent for much of the season.
This was quite a comedown. Mone was famously—or infamously, depending on how this year goes—named one of Michigan's best three players at the dawn of Harbaugh's first season by the man himself:
"He was one of our top players last year. We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."
That's a great googly moogly right there. At the time it would have been totally rad if Mone was one of Michigan's three best defensive linemen, let alone players. Mone was so hyped up that last year's edition of this post had a fusty paragraph about how you should stop bothering the author when he projects Ryan Freakin' Glasgow as the starting NT.
One thing is for certain: Mone is a tank. Here's the starting DL:
Gary says he's 288, and Hurst is probably pushing 300. Mone has 30 pounds on those guys—maybe more. That could be good; it could be bad. It's probably fine. Last year he told Scout that he was 330 when he was hewed down the first time, i.e. at maximum hype volume. He can play at that weight. He probably can't play as much as Glasgow, though, and given Michigan's depth that's a little concerning. Michigan's saving grace may be the fact that if an opponent wants to test Mone's endurance first they'll have to stay on the field.
As befits a tank, when Mone got on the field he did one thing consistently: clobber single blocking backwards. He did it early, against Hawaii, midway through, against Rutgers, and late, against Ohio State. He personally kicked OSU off the field on a second-quarter drive, first shedding a block from freshman Michael Jordan to set up a third and short:
And then whoopin' Isaiah Prince to force a punt:
He returned to the bench soon after that because Glasgow was still around; he'd made his point. A healthy Bryan Mone is going to pick up opposing offensive linemen and dump them in someone's lap.
With the talent around him Mone's main job is to demand double teams. Early returns are positive there, obviously. Mone demonstrated his clobbering last last year and when Michigan provided a glimpse into this year's version of the Oklahoma drill he did it again:
he's battling Cesar Ruiz FWIW
Yeah, the running back went around the carnage; Greg Mattison doesn't care one bit about that, as his reaction to Mone's bulldozer approach demonstrates. If Mone deposits an interior OL yards in the backfield the linebackers will clean up for him.
He's not Glasgow. He's not going to be much of a pass rusher—he pretty much does the same bull rush thing no matter what—and he's not going to force the QB to pitch on speed option. That doesn't mean he can't be effective in his own way. Mone is in fact perfect for this DL, which is stacked with one-gap pass rush terrors already and could use a beef machine.
Mone needs to draw and then stand up to doubles; his ability to do so is still somewhat in question. Mone got blown out some last year. Sometimes he was not:
Mone is the player just below the box, not the player in the box
How much the injury was responsible for that, and how much Michigan can expect him to improve at full health, is unknown. FWIW Webb asserted Mone was "never 100% last year and it showed."
Fall chatter has been positive, thought not incessant. Webb:
Bryan Mone is looking like the pre-injury Mone… He not just a space eater. Right now he is making plays.
"I've just seen a lot of really great things out of Bryan Mone. I've seen power, I've seen quickness, and I've seen speed. I think I have seen what Michigan fans had hoped to see for a couple of years now."
Hurst told the media that Mone is "by far one of the best nose tackles I've seen play" at Michigan. He's been locked in as a starter just like everyone else, and radio silence there is just fine.
Mone certainly has the attitude necessary. When they asked him where he was playing a year ago he answered enthusiastically:
"Strictly nose, baby! I enjoy playing nose. It's the gutter! You've got to play like you're in the gutter. Really me and Glasgow started that. We call each other 'the gutter boys.' That's our motto: play like we're in the gutter."
The injuries are the only thing that's holding up the hype train here. Mone did play well late in the season against some high-end teams; he's got plenty of time in the program and the recruiting hype to expect a high ceiling. If he's not at least decent it'll be a major upset. He'll probably be better than that. He's not going to get any of the glory except in the nitty gritty numbers from PFF and this here site because everyone else will be racking up TFLs; he should be one of the better nose tackles in the Big Ten.
[After the JUMP: Mostly freshmen; also one 300-pound jetpack person.]
At that juncture, Donovan Jeter had not had a media relations workshop. He ended up apologizing after calling Kelly "arrogant" as opposed to cool dude Jim Harbaugh:
"I got in the van and was like 'you know what coach? You're my guy, I'm going to commit tonight. He pulls the van over, jumps out and gives me a big hug. In the morning I kind of forgot that I committed and he ran up to me and gave me a big hug and was like 'I'm glad to have you aboard.' Then I thought 'oh yeah, I committed.' So, I had to go run and tell my parents."
"Not too many head coaches would go out at 12 in the morning and pick up recruits."
You may be a bit worried this guy is a flake what with the decommit and the wicked ND burns and the oh-yeah-I-forgot-I-committed. There is a certain correlation between guys who yap a lot in public and poor outcomes, but with Jeter this appears to be just the ebullient tip of a dedicated iceberg. Harbaugh:
"He's a phenomenal personality and rock-solid guy - very mature, very much a leader, great qualities, plus the quality of getting after the quarterback and hitting the quarterback. That's a really good quality too."
"I think you've got a kid who's going to adjust to college life pretty quick. He's a pretty mature kid who has always surrounded himself with people kind of like him. I'm not surprised that he enrolled early in the sense of being around other guys kind of like him, you know what I mean? That's always a plus."
“Normally a high school kid won’t come in at eight in the morning, I don’t even schedule them then because they won’t wake up to come work. Donovan came at eight o’clock all summer and was here on time and warming up already."
The transition to a college weight program was old hat for Jeter; he'd basically been in one for almost a year prior to his arrival on campus. After hitting a low of 250 he gradually added the weight back, arriving on campus around 270 and exiting spring at 285. There's likely still some refining to do—35 pounds of good weight in a year is pretty tough to pull off. The light switch appears to have gone on and stayed on.
As a result of Jeter's transformation there are some seriously divergent takes out there. Junior year Jeter sounds like a DT all the way, and a plugger at that. ESPN:
Physically impressive prospect with big frame and nice blend of height and bulk. …very good strength with adequate first-step quickness. … big body that can be a stout presence against the run. When he fires off with pad level and brings his hands he can anchor well versus the run and at times against current competition can just throw blockers aside. … strictly a power rusher that is capable of jolting and knocking blockers back when explodes out and stays low. ….needs to further develop pass rush arsenal and better utilize size and strength. … Doesn't look to be fully maximizing ability at this point and has room to improve.
The ND 24/7 site evaluated him similarly when he committed in mid-September—and they were still relying on his junior film:
Not a pure speed guy, so he relies on his strength and power. …ample strength to play inside… great size …displays power off the line and has room for added first step explosiveness. … could play three-technique or big end. If needed, he could add size and play the nose as well. …must become more consistent with pad level during his upfield rush.
Those are DT evals based on a 290-pound junior.
Just a day later, Scout's ND site posted their take on Jeter, one that explicitly referenced his weight loss and focused on the 2016 version. This is a different human:
…a combination of size, strength, uncommonly great feet for such a big man, and an active, physical defensive end who can slide to a three-technique when the situation dictates. …He’s gone from a guy uncertain in his three-point stance with an average first step to a locked-and-loaded, quick-off-the-snap, get-up-the-field big end with a fast-running motor. He runs very well in the open field for such a big man. He has great not good feet in short space. He shows sound fundamentals in his willingness to square up, bend at the knees, and explode into a tackle. … change of direction is that of a much smaller athlete. He is light on his feet, yet he is a power player with “heavy hands” in his one-on-one combat at the line of scrimmage.
Scout's Brian Dohn both took in one of Jeter's games and took a look at his senior tape for a scouting update posted in January—a thing it would be terrific everyone did that for prospects who changed a lot—and found a varied, versatile defensive lineman with a twist ending:
…quick with his hands, and he uses several moves instead of just relying on his physical ability to overwhelm his opponent. …knows how to use his length to eat up a lot of space, and he gets up the field well from the defensive end position. …will chase plays across the field, but he is at his best in the running game when teams try to go at him. …can be a defensive end, particularly on the weakside [ed: !!!] where he can use his length and quickness in his first two steps, or he can add weight and strength and move inside. ….hand speed will also allow him to be successful on the interior of the defensive line.
Scout's profile ended up praising his length, frame, quickness, and explosion. "Athleticism" and "lateral range" were strengths; with "strength" an area for improvement. Different human.
“His quickness and change of direction [stand out]. It’s tough to find big guys who can do that. … I think that’s his biggest asset. … He’s quick, very good feet. I think early and often he showed he had some aggression and physicality to him. He’s worked at it, changed his body and starting to really come into his own as a player overall.”
Jeter enrolled early and started inching his way towards playing time ahead of his classmates. Steve Lorenz reported that Jeter's "size and athleticism were very impressive" in winter workouts; he felt like he made steady progress:
"I wouldn't say there were some aha! moments -- there were some moments where I got hit a little hard. Kind of showed me it was a little different than high school. After each practice, I would talk with Coach Mattison about how to get better with little things -- my hands, my footwork, stuff like that. No aha! moments, just moments with coach."
Folks who got to take in Michigan's Rome practices thought Jeter was already working himself into plausibility, with Nick Baumgardner listing him as the most likely of the available DL to play after the clear top five of Gary, Mone, Hurst, Winovich, and Carlo Kemp. Even though Mike Dwumfour was not participating, that still slides him past three or four guys. Mattison confirmed that take at a press conference when he singled out Kemp and Jeter when asked about the next generation on the DL:
"Donovan Jeter has showed some things. He’s showed us that he can do some things. … Now we’ve got to bring some of the other guys along.”
“I look and Michigan is undefeated and Notre Dame is 2-5. Nothing against Notre Dame. They’ve had some tough losses.
“I don’t want to play for a mediocre school,” he said. “I don’t want to play for a team that goes like 7-6. I want to go to a school that plays in the big bowl games or plays in the College Football Playoff. I don’t want to go to an average school because I don’t think I’m an average player. I want to make big time plays on a big time stage.”
Typically, when a recruit decommits from a school, that likely results in both sides parting ways. However, that's not the case here. Despite opening up his recruitment, Notre Dame looks to still be the top school for Jeter, who remains in constant communication with the Irish coaching staff.
Three days later Jeter committed to Michigan and set Brian Kelly's hair on fire. Bro! Bro. Bruh. Stop it. Get some help.
“If I go out to a party or something that, they’ll be like, ‘Hey, you’re that Jeter kid aren’t you? You related to Derek Jeter?’ ” Jeter said, laughing. “ ‘Yeah, I’m related to Derek Jeter.’ Then they’ll be asking me like, have you ever met him and this and that. And I’m like, ‘Ah, no, he couldn’t make the family reunions.’
“At least one person every day asks me if I’m related to Derek Jeter, and my answer is the same — it’s yes, and it’s always going to be yes because in my mind me and Derek Jeter are related.”
That they're looking for kids with size and they're looking for kids that can move. Donovan certainly possesses those intangibles.
Aaaargh /sets self on fire
Why Fine, Still Wormley? I know I literally just used this comparison but Irving-Bey and Jeter are damn near twins, whether it's in their physical stature, late surge, positional versatility, or recruiting rankings. If Wormley's the best comparison for Irving-Bey he's the best comparison for Jeter.
Mo Hurst is a decent comparable on the three tech side of the ledger. Jeter's significantly taller and doesn't have a recruiting profile as littered with dudes going "my god, what a first step," so it's not that tight. Hurst was another low four star with one other big time program in heavy pursuit, and Jeter has significant upside as a too-quick-and-heavy-to-block three-tech.
Guru Reliability: Low. This is a situation where I think the recruiting sites are prone to miss. Jeter appears to have avoided the camp scene entirely. A large number of the scouting reports were about an out-of-shape 290 pound version of Jeter, and without the eye-opening camps or a shot at an All Star game his rankings were never likely to fit the player he became. The rankings are all basically the same, yes. I won't be surprised if he crushes them.
Variance: Low. Jeter's already pushing for playing time at 285 pounds after exiting spring practice; he's garnering reserved but consistent praise from the coaches in public.
Ceiling: High? Jeter's ceiling remains unclear because of the radical weight change and the uncertainty about where he ends up. But it seems pretty high.
General Excitement Level: Very high. The distance between Jeter and a contributor is already very thin, and he's blown past a few touted recruits already. His versatility means he can find playing time almost anywhere across the DL. Expect him to get a bunch of snaps during his career with a good shot at being a star. While he's not eligible for Sleeper status if you were asking me about the folks most likely to exceed their composite rankings he'd be up there with Stueber, Hudson, and Samuel.
Projection: Jeter will bounce between five and three-tech for the first couple years of his career putting out whatever depth chart fires pop up at those spots. With Kemp locking down the backup SDE spot, it says here that Jeter shifts down to DT during fall practice and competes with Dwumfour and Hudson for snaps. Anyone's guess how that turns out; expect Jeter to play early as Michigan tries to figure out their two deep on the interior, with slightly better than even chance that he's valuable enough right now to not look for a redshirt should an opportunity arise.
Hurst leaves after this year while Mone (probably) and Gary return so Jeter should stick at 3T next year, either winning the job outright or being a rotation piece behind Dwumfour or Hudson.
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.
Talk about the secondary, what with all the departures and the progression not only today but in the spring with the young guys.
Brown: “You know, I’m really happy with our young guys. I mean, they’re all young. Thought Brandon Watson did a good job today, but he’s done a good job all spring, so that’s not surprising. Lavert Hill’s been hurt a lot, so him getting back and getting repetitions was good. David Long made it for three quarters. Nothing serious, but he’s been fighting it as well so we really had to lean on the young guys: Ben St. Juste, Ambry Thomas, and a couple of our younger roster guys, Matt Mitchell.
“So, all those guys were well informed today. Thought we did a pretty good job for a good chunk of the time. Obviously there’s so much to learn as a young player the first time you come and play in front of an audience. It’s just different. I think it was an important task and we did it. Obviously we were challenged on both sides of the ball; I’m sure Drev would feel the same way. You know, neither of us unveiled our attacks, but at the same time, you just want to see your guys compete and play hard and see where we can go technique and fundamental-wise.”
I remember that Josh Uche wasn’t participating in bowl practices. He came pretty close to blocking a punt today, Devin was in the backfield a lot--
Brown: “Oh yeah, jeez. Josh has had some good days. We have a few things special for him, so when we let him do those things he’s been exceptional. But he’s got a long way to go. Again, he’s a guy who was a defensive end in high school who I absolutely loved because he was fast. Now we’re teaching him to play linebacker. That’s a huge challenge for him, so that’s a big deal.
“Devin Bush is exactly what we knew he’d be in this type of environment. You know, he played a year ago. He’s certainly right in form to stepping in to do a good job. Between him and Mike McCray and Robo helping out at times, I feel good about those three guys. We’re really looking for a fourth guy, and I’m not sure we know that yet. From a linebacker standpoint, that would be my huge task.”
Anything that jumps out at you as far as progression with Devin? Is he faster? Is he stronger?
Brown: “I mean, just look at him. You know, I teased him yesterday. He walked by me and didn’t have a shirt on; ‘Last year you were a short, pudgy guy,’ and he’s chiseled. He’s got a Division I body now. I’m asking him to play two positions. Played pretty much one today, and I’m very pleased with where he’s at, obviously.
“You know, this is a day about individual evaluation. Again, I think Drev would say the same thing. Guys are playing out of sorts in different units and spots and all that, but it’s about your performance individually and just see where you take it from that standpoint.”
[After THE JUMP: Don Brown’s Rome plans include scheming for Michigan’s week-three opponent]
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.