[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
This is kind of interesting for us.
Just last year we were on the other side—
“Oh, that’s right, on the other—”
How’s it been for you?
“Uh, this has been just a great opportunity and coach Harbaugh has been a guy that obviously I’ve followed for a long time, and the opportunity to come and learn from him and kind of see how someone else kind of does it and puts it together, it’s really been a lot of fun.”
Can you take us through how he contacted you, and how long did it take you to jump on this offer?
“Well, kind of, maybe, I don’t know if he got the wrong number and I answered. You know, I don’t really know how it came about but we got a phone call and was obviously very excited to come and, if nothing else, just getting an opportunity to kind of stand in the background and see how something’s operated, and that’s what’s been really good. He extended the offer and I was really excited about that. My wife and I are really excited about being in Ann Arbor.”
Taking over the wide receiver group, what was the first thing you wanted to teach this group of wide receivers?
“Well, I think there obviously is a lot of talent there, and good, young talent. The thing I really enjoy is being in that room with them. They’re really good people, good young men.
“For us, one of the focus areas has been ability to, number one, get open, especially against all the press coverage that you see. They’ve really worked on honing their skills and trying to do what we’re trying to teach them to do, and yet we’ve got a long ways to go, but at the same time it’s really a fun group of guys and it’s great to be around them.”
[After THE JUMP: Curr Dogg, SEC speed, and how the basketball team could fuel the WR group’s success]
Substitution/formation notes: Nothing at all different from the last couple of weeks, which brings us right to our normally-I’d-link-this-in-the-chart-but-let’s-put-it-above-the-jump of the week, which features Khaleke Hudson blowing up two Rutgers players and creating an opportunity for Michigan to down a punt at the two-yard line. Pretty convenient for a “khaleke hudson shatter machine” tag to already exist.
[After THE JUMP: punt clear-outs, Thomas’ continued success, and a saved touchdown]
[Ed. A- I was too sick to make the trip in yesterday, but thanks to 247’s Isaiah Hole I had video from which to transcribe.]
“I thought after the first big run that he has we did a decent job of containing there. They hit some big plays. Quarterback’s phenomenal. Hit some big plays on us in the pass game and kind of flustered us a little bit and then we couldn’t get re-settled down in terms of that. I don’t think we paid too much attention, though.”
What happened to Quinn on the missed extra point? Crowd was booing him pretty heavily but did that affect him?
“No, I mean, that’s unacceptable. That can’t happen. He knows that. He just let his emotions get carried away and kind of kicked the ground a little bit and pushed it and that’s got to be fixed immediately from a mental standpoint. Can’t have that ever happen again.”
Ambry [Thomas] seems to really be progressing in kick return. Talk about what you’ve seen from him.
“He’s explosive, fearless. He’s what you want back there. It’s a really good combination we have now. We got Ben Mason, Brad Hawkins, Ambry, three true freshmen working together, getting to know each other, feeling each other out, because all three of those guys could get the ball and two of them have to be a blocker on every kick. Really, really happy with that unit’s progression and how those guys are really coming together and feeling each other out and stuff like that. Really happy with that group.”
[After THE JUMP: Rashan don’t read this, he wants you to keep the chip on your shoulder]
There is always a tipping point when something that probably won't happen becomes something that probably will happen. Sometimes this is nice, like when the entire NFL swears up and down that Jim Harbaugh wouldn't go back to Ann Arbor for love or money. Sometimes it is not nice.
If we aren't already at the tipping point where "Wilton Speight makes a lot of critical mistakes" is a reasonable, seemingly immutable theory, surely we are approaching it.
The weird thing is the way these critical mistakes are loosed into the world. Anybody can throw several passes into defenders' facemasks. Killing your team with a blizzard of boggling interceptions is almost common in college football, where injuries and the vagaries of rostering regularly see peach-fuzzed high schoolers thrown into a tank of piranhas. Sometimes people transfer from Tulane and are expected to stop throwing interceptions, for reasons unknown. Also apparently the NFL has this issue. Twitter informs me Scott Tolzien—yes, that guy—started a game this weekend. Twitter hastens to note that things did not go well. The hopelessly overmatched panic machine quarterback is so common it's a football trope.
Speight, on the other hand, has an air of cool control up until the moment he wings a pass so high that Donovan Peoples-Jones correctly decides his best bet is to spike it, or he turns around to hand air to his running back, or he does that again for the second time in one dang game. He does not seem overwhelmed. He hasn't thrown into coverage except on rare, understandable occasions*. He's yelling at his peach-fuzzed skill player crew about where to line up regularly. He makes a bunch of checks at the line. He is a man in command.
The very bad events are adding up. Everyone misses guys or makes bad reads or eats a sack on occasion. Speight's bad has been explosively bad, and maximally punished. Thus this column, which is lot like 2015's Jake Rudock is going to kill us column.
Rudock, of course, did not kill Michigan. He turned into a fine college player and Matt Stafford caddy, and even now it's not too hard to see Speight getting it together. His issues are fairly simple to correct; they jumped out at me, a layman, on a re-watch and Speight confirmed it in the postgame press conference:
“What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face – when I avoid the pressure – I've got to keep my base. Coach Pep is big on keeping my base. Staying loaded. And sometimes when I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet and it causes the ball to sail or go a little low."
Speight was leaning back a bunch in this game and the resulting throws were high. Nick Baumgardner with a preview of what UFR is going to say:
Also he's dorfing handoffs because he's not listening to Harbaugh. Two seemingly simple fixes yet to make it to the field in year four. This cuts both ways: if Speight can fix his lingering issues Michigan has that commanding guy when he throws straight and does not fumble exchanges, and that seems pretty good.
deep shot hit rate: muchly [Bryan Fuller]
There are very good reasons that Speight is keeping his competition stapled to the bench, and it's that upside. Nobody else on the roster is going to walk on the field and know where everyone else has to be, a critical skill given the average age of Michigan's offense. Nobody else is going to have all the checks in his head, or the pocket presence.
The things Wilton Speight needs to fix are fixable in a timespan of weeks. John O'Korn and Brandon Peters do not have flaws (presence and youth, respectively) nearly as tractable, and so Michigan is going to ride with Speight and hope like hell these blips are just that, and not a pattern that will clobber a promising season like it did in Iowa City last year.
Until further notice, all dropbacks will be evaluated with a jaundiced eye and glance towards Columbus. Welcome to the John Navarre zone.
*[In this game he tried a deep shot to a bracketed Peoples-Jones because there were only two guys in the route and both were covered and what else was he going to do, which is fine.]
Inside Michigan Football:
mobile man mauls Mouhon [Fuller]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mason Cole. This is a bit of a guess but OL never get the proper amount of respect in this section because I haven't gone over things with a fine-toothed comb yet. Cole helped Michigan bust a lot of crack sweeps, and while Isaac got the yardage on the long one it was Cole's ability to ID the force defender, declare him harmless, and go wreck a safety that sprung the play. He gave up nothing in pass protection, as well.
#2(t) Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Tyree Kinnel. Michigan's bushel of short fast dudes on defense terrorized the Cincinnati backfield, collecting all of Michigan's sacks on the day. Each also had their moments in the ground game as well; Kinnel in particular had a couple of critical tackles. Oh, and a pick six. (That was a bit of a gift, yes.) I'm rounding up and giving each gent a point. The points are made up and don't matter, people!
#3 Ty Isaac. Isaac was Michigan's best back again, slaloming through waves of opponent players. He alternated bounces with interior runs that kept UC off guard and used his size and speed combination to excellent effect.
Honorable mention: Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all effective in bursts. Brandon Watson was in the back pocket of many a wide receiver. Grant Perry was efficient, explosive, and dangit that third down was a catch. Zach Gentry had a couple of key receptions.
Honorable mention: This week the good section gets to talk about Pick Six #1 and Pick Six #2. You will like them better here, I imagine. Also: Ty Isaac rips a long one off down the sideline, Speight hits Kekoa Crawford with a bomb; Rashan Gary hulks up after nearly getting ejected and gets the crowd hyped.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Speight's second dorfed exchange ends a promising drive for Michigan and causes even the aggressively reasonable to think this guy has a long term issue.
Honorable mention: Cincinnati rips off a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter and create a period of squeaky bum time; Donovan Peoples-Jones turns out to be Not Jabrill Peppers on punt returns; various Speight overthrows; that one play where both guards pulled in opposite directions.
They're gone, all gone. Michigan loses every receiver on the roster with more than 13 catches a year ago (Grant Perry). A couple of disastrous Hoke recruiting classes mean the chasm from the departed to the new generation is almost as large as theoretically possible. And Freshman Wide Receivers Suck™. Should Wilton Speight be shivering under his blanket at night?
Maybe. But maybe not:
by the year 2047 this jpg will be replaced by preprogrammed electronic disco[Seth]
Wait wait wait that's not what I meant to copy and paste at all.
“Alright, I’ll give you a couple. The receivers are doing really well. DPJ and Oliver Martin and Tarik Black are making a lot of plays. They really are. They’re making some superb athletic types of plays. I’ve never seen freshmen doing it the way they’re doing it."
247 is reporting that Michigan's freshman quartet has been excellent and that a source says the WR spot is "in better shape than it has maybe ever been in." Maybe not all freshman wide receivers suck. Also there's a sophomore.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: YOUNG, THE GIANTS
please don't forget the guy wearing #1 [Patrick Barron]
With the departure of Chesson and Darboh and Drake Harris's flip to defense Michigan returns all of nine career catches on the outside. Those are about evenly split between KEKOA CRAWFORD [recruiting profile] and Moe Ways, but only one of those gents is currently projected to start: Crawford.
As is usual for freshman wide receivers, Crawford's first year was mostly spent blocking guys. He had one bad drop early and one circus catch late…
…and thus ends data about his actual receivering. He did make a catch on a dig against Hawaii and a couple others, but they were routine opportunities that can only give you pause if they were dropped; they weren't.
The blocking was an immediate plus. He came in with a reputation in that department and upheld it:
He looks like a worthy heir to Darboh and Chesson in that department, at least.
With insiders orbiting the freshmen like sharks circling a school of fish, there's been next to no insider talk about Crawford this fall. I did pick up this bit in spring:
Kekoa Crawford lacks DPJ's explosiveness—as do most humans—and looks about like he did when he got on the field this year: very good blocker, big target, good routes. Strong belief he can be a quality #2 receiver this year, and an okay #1 if necessary.
Earlier in the week we talked about the big play antics of freshman Tarik Black. Late in the week it’s Donovan Peoples-Jones. … he stood out the most in first-WR-group that consisted of DPJ, Kekoa Crawford, and Eddie McDoom.
If Crawford is feeling rather overlooked, fair enough. He was an Army AA himself, a high four-star guy ranked in a tight band just outside of everyone's top 100. He's not chopped liver. From his recruiting profile:
…electric in and out of breaks. …quickness to separate …brings a lot to the table after the catch as an elusive player with good moves.
…very competitive speed and slippery elusiveness… knows how to use his feet, hips and burst to gain separation. … athletic and precise and has a good feel for the game.
…does everything well. …solid frame and is much stronger than he looks. …nice burst, is a polished route runner and has good top end speed. …
He's already gotten some run and is holding his own athletically in college. Crawford won a couple of winter combine events and finished a close second to Donovan Peoples-Jones in a few more; the most notable results were a 4.49 40 and 35 inch vertical. That is in line with his top-ten SPARQ score from the Opening during his senior year. Crawford consistently tests in the NFL B+/A- range, and that'll be more than enough in college.
There's about to be several butt-tons of freshman hype in this post, but don't be surprised if Crawford emerges from this season as Michigan's leading receiver. Long term you're hoping he settles into the Avant sidekick role to one world-obliterating type; this year he should be the outside guy who is most reliably in the correct spot. If this sounds unimpressive, please review this site's abiding love for Avant.
[AFTER THE JUMP: seeking one freshman dude, maybe two]
Oh, man, this one's a doozy. I stopped calling people "horseface" around the time that Dennis Dodd toned it down sufficiently to blend in with the great mass of lukewarm take columnists. There has been a long hiatus from "look at this crazy thing Dennis Dodd wrote," then. That détente can last no longer after this:
"I think its an indictment upon society to be honest with you," he said during the SEC spring meetings here at the Hilton Sandestin.
Of course it is. The man who has won consecutive SEC East titles -- a family man with a couple of national championship rings -- suddenly found himself disproving a negative.
" … It effects family, it effects my employer because of something that is totally not true or has any basis," McElwain continued. "I will say this: At least it [looked like] me and not someone else in our program. I'll take [the hits]."
When Naked Shark Guy hit CFB twitter his vague resemblance to Jim McElwain was a covfefe: a short-lived, timeline-intensive twitter joke that burns itself out in a day or so. Nobody ever seriously thought that Naked Shark Guy was McElwain—his hair is too curly and his teeth insufficiently alarming. And yet here's this Dennis Dodd column that takes McElwain's strained protestations with the seriousness of a threat on the Queen's life:
McElwain, 55, is a stand-up guy like most coaches in his position. He's used to putting out fires, making snap decisions, taking blame when it is fair. But in the blink of moment, he became a social media victim.
The photo, of course, was not of McElwain. One report said had he had been "vindicated." Of what? Vindication is defined as, "clearing someone of blame or suspicion."
Except there was no blame to clear, no crime committed. The only connection was our brains seeing a resemblance and somehow believing McElwain was capable of such a pose.
Unfortunately, the default setting on the Twitterverse was that had to be Florida's coach. Right?
No, you complete ninny, no. Dodd manages to get so upset about people making jokes about someone who nobody thinks is humping a shark that he self-refutes:
What's the big deal jumping to conclusions about a shark, a boat and a coach?
Common human decency, for one thing. When it was determined the man on the shark was reportedly a former NYPD officer, one wag wrote, "We finally have proof of what appears to be McElwain's innocence."
What about assuming his innocence instead of what looked like a badly Photoshopped pic? Instead, that indicted society McElwain spoke of took it way too far.
The whole thing is a magnificent edifice of farts based on a deliberate misunderstanding of jokes on twitter. Spurred by McElwain, certainly. His reaction to the situation improves my opinion of Michigan's chances this fall—this is not the reaction of the sharpest knife in the drawer…
"Ultimately, what do you want me to say?" McElwain said. "It's not me. I felt bad for my family and the university because … really?
"Here I am getting some real bad personal attacks. How ridiculous is that?"
…but there is some water too silly to carry. Or at least there should be.
Follow Harbaugh around and he gives you news. Jim Harbaugh can be odd and standoffish at press conferences—or even entirely absent, as he was after the spring game—but if you travel a long distance to be where he is, he spits out newsbits like mad. Satellite camp season is an opportunity to do this, and sure enough we've got some extra insight into next year's team.
We've mentioned walk-on slot receiver Nate Schoenle as a potential contributor; Harbaugh offers up some additional information on him:
"Nate Schoenle -- he continues to grade out as the top guy right now," Harbaugh said. "The competition is really going to rage on."
Harbaugh further confirmed that Ben Mason was a fullback and Brad Hawkins was maybe probably definitely going to play defense. On Hawkins:
"Brad Hawkins could be a safety." …
"What's transpired though: Don Brown got to him," Harbaugh mused. "Don Brown said that he talked to Brad and Brad wanted to play safety. I accuse Don Brown of some recruiting going on there. We haven't investigated the whole thing yet. But I think it's a little of both."
The WR flood and relative dearth of safeties always made that move likely, especially after Michigan realized it wasn't going to cram its class full with other guys and circled back on Oliver Martin. It's official enough that we've moved him to safety on the Depth Chart By Class.
To be fair to Alabama, Nick Saban appears to be the only coach in the league who actually wants to go to nine games. (Because playing Tennessee is basically the same as playing Chattanooga to Bama.) That is still mindblowing. The problem is extensive and has no solutions. Auburn's trying to find one by moving to the East, where Alabama would not be a perpetual roadblock to the championship game, and that causes more problems than it solves.
The Big Ten going to 14 was immensely dumb but at least they didn't compound that error by continuing to have eight-game conference seasons with protected crossover games.
"December is a pretty busy time in the world of college football from a hiring standpoint," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "And you're now going to introduce that in the middle of young people making decisions? Plus you're pushing up the evaluation process, which I can't see how that's good for the young person or for the team."
Would Bret Bielema allow a recruit to visit Arkansas unofficially during the new official window? Dozens do annually. Do SEC coaches offer and accept commitments from kids two or three years out from this December signing window? Dozens annually. Does Greg Sankey interpret "football overall" as "the SEC"? Absolutely.
It's nice to see Waffle House Nation splutter about rule changes they don't like instead of rules Jim Harbaugh isn't breaking for a change.
Sophomore safety Kenney Lyke told ESPN on Saturday that he planned to transfer to Mississippi Delta Community College in hopes of eventually landing at an SEC school in the future. A day earlier, Michigan State confirmed that redshirt sophomore Kaleel Gaines was also leaving the program.
Rumor has it that several more folks are on their way out. There are the three players under sexual assault investigation and a couple more potential academic casualties. There's a real possibility MSU goes into this year with 75 scholarship players, the last eight or so freshman who MSU picked off from the likes of Temple in their late scramble to fill their class. Prospects for a bounce-back are dim.
He was spectacular in that Texas game, no doubt, finishing with a passer rating over 250. It was all downhill from there, though, as he only threw one more pass in all of 2016 than he did against the Longhorns, on his way to posting a 106.73 passer rating as the back up.
He does bring something to the position that Florida’s lacked under McElwain: mobility. …
if Zaire is supposed to usher in a new era, there isn’t a lot of time to restructure the offense to tailor it to his strengths, or, alternatively, for Zaire to learn Nussmeier’s system. None of which is to say it’s not useful to sign an experienced quarterback. Before Zaire’s arrival, Florida was looking at a choice of Luke Del Rio, himself a transfer, recovering from an injury that caused him to miss half the regular season, and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had a nice spring game, and… did I mention he had a nice spring game?
This would terrify me if it was ten years ago, when Michigan was still deep in their total inability to defend a mobile quarterback. It's still unsettling: first game with ten new starters, one returning starter is not a great space player. Don Brown has shifted Michigan to a 4-2-5 featuring a bullet LB in Devin Bush, though. Hopefully those issues will be mitigated even when Michigan's defense isn't the overwhelming unit they were a year ago.
As a player comparison, Norris reminds me a lot of JT Compher. Both are super-competitive two-way centers. Compher was ranked right around the same range for the NHL Draft(he ended up going 35th overall in 2012) after putting up similar numbers with the NTDP. Compher blew up offensively in his junior season at Michigan, thanks in part to some great linemates, but still projects as more of a solid role player at the NHL level. The same is likely true for Norris. He projects as a nice player at the NHL level, especially if he can remain at the center position, but one that probably tops out as a second or third line player, rather than a true star.
We really have to stop forgetting about Kemp. [Bryan Fuller]
The annual question:
Player who made the biggest move this spring?
The annual responses:
Adam: I'd argue that a guy who looks like he could be a contributor yet doesn't have a headshot on the official site made a big move, so I'm going with Nate Schoenle. Prior to the game I knew of him because I glanced at the roster and figured he too must be familiar with people butchering his last name despite its relative simplicity. After the game I knew of him because he can do like, wide receiver things.
He's more of a downfield threat than a wiggly slot bug; he presents a matchup issue for safeties nevertheless. He lined up against legitimate competition and showed good speed as well as adequate hands and route-running. Schoenle may not see the field this fall--Michigan's bringing the Monstars of WR recruiting classes--but we now know that there's substantive competition in the slot.
David: I liked Keith Washington. He was always an intriguing prospect at 6'2" but came in very raw. After an obvious redshirt, he got onto the field a bit last year, covering kicks and grabbing a couple of tackles. With all of Michigan's 2016 starting secondary gone and most of the replacements being very young, Washington looks like he could make a run at some playing time. He had a fantastic PBU on a fade route down the sideline. He seemed to stay step-for-step with wunderkind DPJ and brought him down after limited gains a few times. Washington also flashed some solid run defense, coming off the edge to make a couple of nice tackles (one specifically on Higdon after Karan bounced it outside). From what I could tell, Keith has made strides in all areas and with that lengthy frame, he could work his way onto the field for more meaningful snaps, this Fall.
Plus, how can you doubt a guy who will offer to spontaneously backup his 40 time in a parking lot?
[After the JUMP: How long will we wait for Ace to take Peters?]
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.
Hello. Here are some spring practice items. Please read responsibly: these are impressions from a couple of practices, not even a whole spring session. The latter is notoriously unreliable; the former is even more so. Even if everything in here is the gospel truth the rest of spring and fall camp will change the picture considerably.
Not a lot of intrigue: Wilton Speight is an unchallenged #1. John O'Korn is still a nose ahead of Brandon Peters for second-team snaps. Peters is flashing talent but is still behind the veterans with his command of the offense. He will offer a little dual threat if and when he ascends to the starting job. Speight's been up and down early.
Similar situation here: Chris Evans is the guy. He's added a little muscle—up to 212 at the latest—and has full command of the offense. He knows why he's doing the things he's doing, and occasionally makes spooky jukes based on his anticipation of the situation. Breakout year is likely.
Because it's running back Michigan will rotate a bunch. Various reports note that Ty Isaac is looking good and Kareem Walker is coming on, which continues a theme from Michigan's bowl practices. Higdon has been limited with a minor injury.
Kingston Davis's decision to transfer was his alone—Michigan was already at 85 before his departure—and is likely because he was fifth on the depth chart with more guys arriving this fall and it was fullback or nothing for him. This should be a very deep and good platoon.
Wide receiver & tight end
One of the biggest questions entering spring: who is the #1 receiver? Early returns are very encouraging about Donovan Peoples-Jones. Top five receivers are immediate impact guys about 33% of the time, and Peoples-Jones looks to be in that group. It took him just a few practices to establish himself. He's also got a minor injury and hasn't been in pads for a few days but that hasn't stopped the rumbles.
Kekoa Crawford lacks DPJ's explosiveness—as do most humans—and looks about like he did when he got on the field this year: very good blocker, big target, good routes. Strong belief he can be a quality #2 receiver this year, and an okay #1 if necessary.
With Grant Perry still being held out, Eddie McDoom is getting a long look in the slot and "doing McDoom things," which I interpret to mean breaking tackles on end-arounds. A surprise name is Nate Schoenle, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Ann Arbor. Schoenle has good size—listed at 6'2" on the roster—for a slot and when he committed his coach thought he had a shot:
“Nate’s a late bloomer but his upside is pretty steep, so they’re getting a pretty good preferred walk-on candidate,” said Gabriel Richard coach Mike Girskis. “He’s got fantastic speed, decent size and he’s working really hard in the weight room. His potential is exceptionally high from what I can see; I think he’s going to start as a project and wind up a steal.”
Girskis has called Schoenle the best receiver Gabriel Richard has had, citing his 40-yard dash time of below 4.5 as proof of his ability to excel at the college level. He also said his high academic scores are evidence of his capabilities as a quick learner.
Those academic scores were enough to get him pre-admitted to Ross. He's making the most of his opportunity. Slot is a place where 'Bama's running out Oregon State and BGSU transfers, so Schoenle's in the right spot to make an impact as a walk-on. There's one report that's not sure who #29 is; a dollar says it's Schoenle.
Folks who have been intermittently available include Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Tarik Black has also sat out some; when he's in he's a tough cover with his size and physicality. He's a contested-ball guy at worst with some long speed upside.
At tight end (or maybe wide receiver), Zach Gentry has been making a ton of catches early with the second unit. Nate Eubanks is getting a significant amount of run, some problem with drops. With Asiasi gone, TJ Wheatley is getting first team reps—Bunting's been held out some. Wheatley looks like a terrific receiver but his blocking remains a work in progress.
Ruiz is key
As always, difficult for sideline observers to discern much about the most complicated spot on the field but one thing seems clear: Mason Cole is going to move back outside. Michigan is running Patrick Kugler, Cesar Ruiz, and redshirt freshman walk-on Andrew Vastardis at center, and while Cole has probably taken some reps there all the reports I have talk about him on the outside with various mentions of the other three guys at center.
Kugler is leading right now but the Ruiz hype is real. Like Mike Onwenu he's shed a significant amount of weight and is still stunningly large for an underclassman: he's at 320, down from 340, and people expect him to push his way into the starting lineup sooner or later.
Onwenu, meanwhile looks the part, "bullying" various folks lined across from him. You can mark his name down in pencil as a starter.
Right tackle is currently Juwann Bushell-Beatty, with Bredeson sticking inside at guard. I assume they'll look at Bredeson on the outside if they think Ruiz and Kugler can play together; this is not based on any practice reports but rather your author's charting of last year's OL.
OL numbers are currently very low with a couple of guys not in pads, with a significant number of walk-ons on the second unit. Michigan of course tried to recruit a bazillion OL last year, and until the rest of the folks arrive in fall it's going to be patchwork.