lada dida dada dada dada deeda dida dum [Eric Upchurch]
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[Ed. A—Pick your poison if you’re wondering why there aren’t any MGoQuestions: is it the GI bug that has kept me up and…uh, occupied since 4 AM, or is it that my wife could go into labor at any time? I’ll be back at Schembechler Hall as soon as I can. Thanks to MGoFriend Isaiah Hole for the video.]
Do you have the deepest position?
“Well, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know, we haven’t looked at it. I think the linebackers got some good depth, some good talent. I think there’s some good young kids all over that defense that are working to make the depth that we need.
“But up front, you know we want to always have enough depth to be able to rotate, and really, that’s what the spring is for us. We want our first group to get better and come out every practice to get better, and guys behind them gotta earn the right so that you say, ‘Okay, when we get in games, this guy can go in right now. I think you’re getting that. I think you’re seeing that.”
Who’s starting to earn that right?
“Well, Kwity Paye is having a really, really good spring. Michael Dwumfour, I think, is having one of the best springs that I can remember. I mean, he’s really playing hard, and Aubrey’s [Solomon] playing hard, and Carlo, Carlo Kemp every day comes out an gets a little better, and he’s playing a couple positions. I think we’ve got a number of kids that are doing good to try and get that first group [to] feel like they’re there.”
What distinguishes Dwumfour?
“Dwumfour, it’s been he’s so quick off the football. He has a lot of Mo Hurst in him. There’s times when you see him come off the ball and you just go, ‘Whoa, that’s really good,’ and he’s a little bit thicker and a little bit bigger.
“The other thing, it’s probably Rashan [Gary] and Chase [Winovich] and Bryan Mone’s leadership that have really gotten him to step up. He’s always shown flashes, but now all of a sudden he’s getting more mature. Times when he’d play really good, really good, really good, and then all of a sudden try to take a play off or he wasn’t ready to take that next play. He’s not doing that now. He’s pushing himself way past where he usually would, and that’s a real good sign for us.”
[After THE JUMP, a 275-pound man is referred to as “little Phillip.” Football!]
“Uh, I don’t know. It was kind of tough for me. Felt like I probably should have gotten the award, me or Chase [Winovich], but it happens. Can’t dwell on it now. It’s just the way things go sometimes.”
Were you expecting it?
“Uh…you know, kind of but…whatever.”
Do you ever think about not playing in the bowl game?
“A little bit. Still not really sure. Right now it’s just business as usual, practicing and all that type of stuff.”
So you haven’t made a decision?
“No, I haven’t.”
What’s going to go into that decision for you?
“Just, you know, speaking with my family, talking to Jake [Butt], talking to Chris [Wormley], some of the other guys that may have had a similar decision. Talking to coach Harbaugh—just trying to use all my resources to make sure that I make the best decision for myself and my family.”
[After THE JUMP: Hurst on his timeline and insurance, Karan Higdon: South Carolina fan, Kugler on next year’s O-line, and McCray on SEC speed and the 2018 defense]
“Yeah, Aubrey’s steadily since he got here has improved every day. Again, it’s really like it was in the past, which we take great pride in, is the older guys have really mentored him. I mean, you can see it every day. You get Bryan Mone coaching him on what he should be doing, you’ve got Mo Hurst—guys are watching the film and you’ll hear them say ‘That was really good’ or ‘Step this way’ and he’s really a great young man. I mean a great, great young man that wants to be good, and so he’s gotten the opportunity and when he’s gone in he’s played very well.”
How often did you interact with Aubrey during the recruiting process?
“A lot. A lot. Obviously you want a great player like that to come here so you have to. There’s always going to be an opportunity, so that was the big thing he saw and wanted to come.”
How was it building that relationship during the recruiting process.
“Good. I mean, it’s the same as it is with any player. You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to be fortunate enough to be at a school like Michigan where, to me, when I recruit, it’s a no-brainer for a guy to come here. I really believe that in my heart.
“You’re going to have a great head football coach, you’re going to have a great football program, and you’re going to have an opportunity to play because we play the best players, doesn’t matter, and you’re going to get the greatest degree in the country. So what else would there be? If you like weather that’s not hot, you’re in great shape. But—so it’s not hard.”
How has Kwity Paye not only improved since he came in but how far can he go as far as what you can see?
“Kwity Paye’s another one. Kwity Paye is just like Aubrey. I mean, he has just daily improved. Again, I’ll sit there and just before I’ll say something to him you’ll hear Rashan or you’ll hear Chase say ‘No, you’ve got to step this way’ or ‘You’ve got to be lower here.’ He’s the same way; he listens in meetings, he’s got great pride, he wants to be a really good football player, and so the same thing’s happening with him. Every time he takes a rep, I sit there and say this guy’s gotten better. He gets better every day and he’s gon’ be a special player.”
[After THE JUMP: maintaining rush lanes, rolling eight deep, Chase gonna Chase]
They didn’t have players take the podium today, so instead I took a little bit of audio from the different scrums around the Towsley Museum and transcribed it for you, dear reader. If you’re wondering why other sites might have certain quotes not seen here or vice versa, keep in mind that I have one recorder and one me to gather audio.
I jumped in the scrum late but the question seems pretty obvious.
“Who’s the hardest hitter? Chase thinks he’s the biggest hitter, Josh [Metellus] thinks he’s the biggest hitter, I think I’m the biggest hitter. We always have that argument but as long as we’re all getting there at the same time and laying the big hit then it should be fine.”
Do you feel like you did well?
“I felt like I was communicating well with my teammates. I felt I did good. I felt like I got to the ball pretty fast and [was] making all my checks.”
Totally comfortable now guiding all the younger guys back there?
“Yeah, I did feel comfortable. We were all talking after the game about the game and the coaches work us so hard in practice we were like, ‘Man, this is pretty easy.’ Because of the way they work us in practice, we felt really good.”
Did Josh Metellus play well Saturday?
“He did everything well. He was talking to me the whole time. He was making checks as I was making checks. He covered a lot. He covered a lot more than me just because of their offense and I feel like he covered really well. He was on the tight end; there was one time he was covering a receiver and the quarterback checked down and ran it and he got off the block and forced that fumble; that was a good play by him. Any time you come out of coverage and make a tackle like that is good.”
You mentioned speed quite a bit. Has there been more of an emphasis on that this year, on being faster than last year?
“I don’t think they really coach the speed, I think that’s just naturally how we are. I think they want us running for the ball but speed-wise, I think that’s just all of us as a group together trying to get to the ball as fast as we can.”
[After THE JUMP: Nolan Ulizio and Lawrence Marshall]
Coach Zordich expressed some concern with the corners. Have you continued to see them progress?
“Oh yeah. They’re doing just fine. Obviously I don’t know—we’re about a month in now and we had a little…I don’t know what you’d call it—moment, whatever—but about four or five days ago I’ve just seen us pick up the level of practice tempo. Mentally, we really took a huge step and things have started to click since then. It’s hard when you’re a young player, especially in the secondary, and you have a lot of things going on, but we’ve certainly cleared that hurdle and guys are communicating well back there and I feel good about the way we’re adjusting to stacks, bunches, etc. There’s some clarity there.”
What got the team over the hump four or five days ago?
“I don’t know. It just…a moment or whatever, things kind of started to click. You could just see a complete elevation in our energy and we haven’t really stepped back at all since then. I feel good about where we’re at.”
What are the challenges when you have to prepare for the possibility of three different quarterbacks?
“Well, you know, I prepared for Zaire back a couple years ago and he was sharing time with—I lost his name but he’s in the NFL now…Kizer. And so, he can run the ball. He’s a good spread run guy. He can get on the perimeter and hurt you with some throws. He can go back and huck it.
“Feleipe Franks, obviously he’s more of a drop-back guy, wing it around, which I don’t think they would change their scheme dramatically for him because drop-back is part of their game.
“Del Rio, he can run the nakeds. He’s got some ability to run. He throws the ball— probably can do most things for them. Does he satisfy the equation of being able to make them the most multiple? Maybe that’s the answer, I don’t know. We’re prepared for all three guys.”
Your backup defensive line, are you pleased with their progress?
“Yeah. Really happy with Rashan, Mo Hurst, Bryan Mone, Winovich. Carlo Kemp has vastly improved. Lo Marshall has vastly improved. You feel good about what Aubrey Solomon’s bringing to the table. We’re getting some solid play out of Reuben [Jones] and also Kwity Paye; young freshman’s being doing some good things and has taken a number of reps in camp that we feel he has tremendous upside.”
[After THE JUMP: it’s a Don Brown presser, just click already]
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.]
“Good. It’s been good. We had a good day. Our guys had more energy and were moving around better; [they] had a bounce in their step. This’ll be a big weekend. This is—guys are going to get done with training, get into playing positions. It’s a big weekend for it because we start making those two-deep rosters soon. Train’s already left the station and it’s picking up steam.”
Are you going to give us those two-deeps?
“Uh…no, I didn’t say that.”
You said 8-15 practices for the quarterbacks to--
Has anybody stepped up? Is it still a three-horse race or a two-horse race?
“Yeah, John [O’Korn] and Wilton [Speight] have really stepped up. I think they’ve created a little bit of separation and they’re battling now. It’s going one with the ones and the next day the other’s with the ones and the other’s with the twos. We’re keeping a very close eye on it and it’s progressing well.”
Pep said the other day that one of the things he really likes [QBs to have] is command of the offense. As a former quarterback, what does that mean to you when somebody says they have command of the offense?
“Well, it’s just a process of knowing where all your players are and figuring out what the defense is trying to do to you or take away or give you or where they’re more vulnerable, being able to move the team in and out of the huddle, and make reminders is always another one.
“If a guy has good command of the offense he’ll be able to give other guys reminders, the running back or the fullback or a wide receiver or a tight end. He’s got it on the tip of his tongue and he just knows it cold; that’s having command of the offense.”
Is that the kind of thing that Brandon [Peters] has to do to get back to the same level as John and Wilton?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s just a process for him. He’s competing hard and doing good. Not to say that it’s set in stone right now. I think that the two guys have really created a little bit of separation.”
[After THE JUMP: right side of the line, the unblockables, young guys likely to contribute, and more]
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.