For the first time ever, the MGoBlog staff photographers covered all 13 Michigan Football games. In addition we covered Basketball, Gymnastics, Hockey, Softball, Signing of the Stars, The Nike/Jumpman Launch, and many other media days, press conferences, etc. It has been an interesting ride and we've loved every minute of it.
First and foremost, thank you to Brian, Ace, Seth, Adam, and David for all that you do to make our job possible. You guys are awesome!
Second, thanks to the readership of MGoBlog. Your support on the blog and through social media has been outstanding. We appreciate all of you…well most of you…well some of you. It's hard to believe that I have just finished covering my 6th season of football for MGoBlog. It has been an interesting ride thus far. I'm looking forward to many more seasons on the sideline.
I also want to make sure that we thank the other photographers who stepped in when one of us can not cover a game: Bill Rapai, Marc-Gregor Campredon, Paul Sherman, and Joseph Dressler. You guys have done a great job.
All that out of the way, I thought I'd share some of my favorite photos (from all of us) to come out of it.
MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch, Bryan Fuller, and Patrick Barron
This naturally leads to a discussion about lighting and camera stuff but multiple reports from media day report that the maize is darker. Also: Harbaugh was probably so incensed by uniform clutter he sewed the flaps that cover up the superfluous block M himself.
The most noticeable changes to Stadium seating relate to ADA accessibility, as seats had to be eliminated in order to widen aisles and install hand railings around the entire bowl with the exception of the student seating section.
Michigan still has the largest capacity in the country, and they will actually fill it this year. Also:
"He told me they're not giving up on me, and to keep fighting to get back, so I've been coming out to 7-on-7s and doing everything I can to stay part of the team, and my teammates have been helping me out with that a lot too."
If we don't see him at all this year he would be in Chris Fox territory, wherein everyone is waiting for the news he's transitioned to a student assistant. Hopefully it doesn't come to that and we at least see him on special teams some.
Okay then. Harbaugh had a direct answer to the minor fifth year kerfuffle caused by Keith Heitzman's comments to the Columbus Dispatch:
"The fifth year has to be a mutual decision," he said. "Nothing is guaranteed except the opportunity to take that spot. Do you want to come back for a fifth year and does the football team want you back?"
Apparently some guys were put on the "impress me" block and some were not. FWIW, I've heard that Countess was not one of those guys—they expected him to stay and were expecting to play him a lot.
Somebody didn't read BRANDON'S LASTING LESSONS. Minnesota's AD has resigned because he started drunk-sexting colleagues late at night. Athletic directors: typing anything after 9 PM is like feeding Gizmo after midnight.
UConn first, then one of Syracuse/Charlotte. Looks like we get to find out what "AXS" is and if anyone in the state gets it, as the opener is on it.
UConn was 20-15 in the American last year and bounced from the first round of the NIT; they lose Ryan Boatright, their highest-usage player, but return everyone else. Syracuse was 18-13 and 9-9 in the ACC; they did not have a postseason because they took the ever-popular midseason NCAA sanctions after Jim Boeheim got nailed for all manner of malfeasance. They lose C Rakeem Christmas but return everyone else. Charlotte was 14-18 last year and looks pretty bad.
Werenski confirmed for NHL.com that he will return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore year.There was speculation that the 6-foot-2, 221-pound left-handed shot would play for London of the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16. London selected Werenski in the second round (No. 24) of the 2013 OHL draft.
Losing him would have been very, very bad on top of the Copp and Larkin departures.
At some point, Michigan will find out what it is this year. I have no idea when that point will come.
We know they're better than they were last year. How much better remains frustratingly murky. You think you have the answer when Michigan is punked in East Lansing, but then the Spartans get throttled and Michigan beats Purdue and there they are again in the national rankings…
10. South Carolina
11. Virginia Tech
12. Clemson 13. Michigan
15. Penn State
…and you wonder what happened to the rest of college football. This team is transparently flawed, incapable of going ten pass attempts without throwing the ball to the other team, and one year removed from having a defense that couldn't slow down a band of coked-out lemurs. So of course they are on the cusp of the top ten, hanging out with Houston, South Carolina's dumpster-fire offense, and Penn State's bold experiment into quarterback-free football. College football 2011: contagious and 100% fatal.
With one loss and seven wins everything is on the table as long as Sparty manages to biff it once down the stretch (don't get your hopes up)… and no one knows if they're any good.
This must be what it felt like to be a Minnesota fan in the middle of the Glen Mason era. Consider: you were a national power, and then you were wretched forever. One 3-9 year counts as "forever" to Michigan fans. We are sheltered, sheltered people.
You start showing signs of life. One season you get off to a great start, and collapse. Okay. We got off to a great start! It's better than being wretched!
The next season you get off to a great start, and collapse slightly less. Okay. We are building something here.
The next-next season you get off to a great start, are ranked in the top 15, have an unstoppable ground game, and… well… is there going to be anyone on the schedule? No? No teams at all?
Ah, Michigan. Here we go. /dies
It wasn't like this before. Michigan was Michigan, fergodsakes. All victories were expected and all teams were inferior and all losses were inexplicable or unjust and there wasn't a question about any of this. Michigan was just better.
Evidence to the contrary was suspect and invariably proven—or at least argued to be—false. There was this call or this mistake or this thing, and if the game had continued until a victory was well and truly certain, the opponent would have left shattered into a thousand mournful pieces*. This mentality was so pervasive that Michigan fans still have a reputation for the above thought process even after the last five years.
I don't think like that anymore. At first I was like the materialized whale from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
"Big Ten? What's that? I wonder if it will be friendly."
Now I'm trying to figure out whether I am the bowl of petunias…
The only thing that went through the bowl of petunia's mind as it fell was Oh No, not again.
…or if something novel is happening, something like not plummeting to my doom after materializing in an area where gravity is not my friend.
The Big Ten is not helping out here. At all. Michigan's conference wins are over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue, teams which have lost to North Dakota State, Army, and Rice, respectively. Meanwhile, where is the proverbial other shoe? The nearest proximate shoe just lost to the Gopher team so bad they inspired GopherQuest. Gopher blog Fire Jerry Kill shows how this is possible by splitting out various quarterbacks' stats when they are playing Iowa vs Not Iowa. Here's MarQuies Gray:
The next potential shoe lost to the Purdue team Michigan just outgained two to one. They didn't score against the Boilers until there were ten minutes left. And they're coached by Ron Zook. Comparative scores are a dumb way to do anything because football is weird, but it kind of seems like football will have to be weird for those shoes to drop. There is a strong possibility that Michigan reaches ten games this season without playing a decent team other than 1) the one they beat thanks to a fluketasm and 2) the one they lost to in a trash tornado.
Then it's just Nebraska and Ohio State. Just.
The stakes here are simple and vast as the ground that may or may not be rushing up to meet us: a satisfying season. That's something Michigan hasn't had in almost a decade. 2006 left a nasty taste because of the way it finished. Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State since 2003, hasn't done that and won a bowl since 2000. Expectations keep deflating but we still haven't hit the point where they cross the actual accomplishments of the football team.
I want to believe. I miss the days when accusations of Michigan arrogance were accurate. I just don't know, man. I don't feel the air rushing past my face, but it turns out I'm not very good at identifying certain doom rushing up from below.
*[Unless it was from the Pac-10 or Florida, in which case please take your 30-point victory and GTFO before we have to alter our mentality.]
Kovacs. I sort of had the Kovacs information but it was only one unconfirmed source so I held it and hoped it was not true. Now that it is obviously true I can tell you a couple things about it:
It is supposed to be an MCL sprain, which means he can barely move his leg at the moment and will be out a few weeks. When the coaches say he's "questionable" for Iowa they're in all likelihood…
…lying their boo-boos off. Kovacs did not practice Tuesday but no one noticed this because they threw Matt Cavanaugh out there in #32.
The Cavanaugh thing is the clincher after a season of mysterious fake-seeming injuries that conveniently explain things like why the national defensive player of the week immediately ate bench. Hoke will bend the truth for better PR or gamesmanship purposes. It's back to the Fort. This is a 180 from the injury-report-issuing Rodriguez, though IIRC Rodriguez would occasionally surprise by leaving off a guy who was not already known to be dinged up.
Anyway, the plan going forward is to take any Hoke statement about the injury status of a player with a grain of salt. So no, I don't believe Woolfolk was moving to safety before this happened.
We have to talk, scoreboard person. An artist's impression of the replays on the brand new scoreboards at Michigan Stadium:
The scoreboards are very big. The replays are even bigger, to the point where they are useless unless you're a helmet fetishist. Widen your shot, good sir, and the blessings of Bo will be upon you.
The next defense. After years of being an untenably young defense, Michigan has reached average-ish. Despite that they're slated to lose only four players next year, one of them a walk-on. With the swap at WLB and the seemingly permanent insertion of Blake Countess into the starting lineup the breakdown is like so:
Three freshmen (Ryan, Morgan, Countess)
A sophomore (Gordon)
Four juniors (Roh, Floyd, Demens, Kovacs)
Three seniors (Martin, RVB, Heininger)
And then there's Woolfolk, who is a starter as long as Kovacs is out. If only Rodriguez had recruited some dudes in the middle of the line you could project the returners to be non smoke-and-mirrors good. Even as it stands you've got a senior Campbell and hope for decent play from Washington, Rock, and a bunch of freshmen. They should be able to maintain their play next year.
The one true tiebreaker. Everyone's talking tiebreakers in the West division because it was looking like a bunch of cats in a sack at the end of the year before Iowa went out and ended GopherQuest. The Big Ten's are typically goofy, prioritizing head to head over a better measure of superiority: the record of your conference opponents.
The first tiebreaker should be the conference record of your opponents in the other division, which works for two- and three-way ties. Right now that looks like this:
Nebraska: 9-4 (Wisconsin (2-2), PSU(5-0), OSU (2-2))
Michigan: 6-7 (Purdue (2-2), Illinois (2-3), OSU (2-2))
MSU: 4-9 (IU (0-5), Wisconsin (2-2), OSU (2-2))
If the season does end in a three-way tie here* any system that would give the nod to the team that played Illinois and Purdue or IU and Wisconsin instead of Wisconsin and Penn State is a broken system. Instead the tiebreakers are all head to head and divisional record, which makes no sense. You've all played eight conference games and proven yourself equal—it's time to figure out who played the tougher schedule.
*[Say M beats Nebraska, loses one other, MSU loses to… uh… Iowa, Nebraska wins out with exception of M loss.]
Jake Ryan edge update. I have negative complaints this week. This is also known as praise. There were no sections confused by my "AAAARGH JAKE RYAN" outbursts because the most notable thing that happened in This Week In Jake Ryan's Edge Play was Ryan annihilating a sweep in the backfield by submarining a blocker on a blitz and tackling. +3, Mr. Ryan.
Quite a find there, especially considering that Michigan picked him up because he was an effective blitzing OLB in a 3-3-5 in high school. He could be a fish out of water in this scheme.
Michigan under-center running update. It… worked? Somewhat. I have no idea how to classify things like Fitzgerald Toussaint taking a toss play opposite that Denard jet action and motoring 59 yards. That's not really manball. It's not spread 'n' shred. It's gimmickball.
It worked, though. It looked like Michigan finally got that pin and pull zone operational, possibly because they identified an issue with Purdue's DEs. If they're easy to seal the pin and pull gets you the advantages of an outside sweep in a faster-developing play. The pulling linemen have less distance to cover.
The I-Form stuff did work to some extent. As we'll see below, the extent was such that every newspaper in the state is running a piece on how
1: Lo, Bo looked down from Football Valhalla and said "I am pleased, my son." 2: "It is the will of Old that the quarterback shall taketh the ball from the center by hand and turn his back to the line of scrimmage." 3: "Motion of the ball through the air, whether forwards or backwards, is an abomination to Old." 4: "Pitches are excepted."
Judging the effectiveness of the base offense will have to wait for the UFR to break down the yardage. I'll probably have to categorize the gimmickball separately.
Inverted veer. Rodriguez played with it some but never really put it in the offense for realz; Borges whipped it out against the Boilers to good effect.
That's a play that gets Robinson going north-south with a pulling lineman if the defense doesn't force a handoff, which Purdue didn't. That was to their detriment.
I probably won't complain about showing it against a weak opponent if/when it doesn't work down the road. Purdue was nowhere near the baby seal that Minnesota was. The game remained in contact until the third quarter. This is a different thing than knowing you can name your score after the first drive.
Taylor Lewan. @mgovideo tweeted "Taylor Lewan is undead" and I have nothing that can top that. Shoot him in the head, Gholston, or he's coming for you next year. Make sure to double tap.
Students who are not reading this: you suck. Weekly complaint about student section is lodged. No one reading this is included. It is your slothful classmates who must feel the lash.
Now, there are some extreme bottlenecks upon section entry that mean a lot of student who show up on time spend 15 minutes waiting in line before actually getting into the stadium. Vitriol towards the student section up to halfway through the first quarter should properly be directed at the athletic department's crappy logistics.
HOWEVA, when half of the upper reaches remain empty throughout a Big Ten game that's on various students who don't know what MGoBlog is. There's no reason to sell those people tickets at discounted rates if they're not even going to show up and be loud. The carrot and stick:
Assign points to students based on ticket scans. 5 for 20 minutes before the game, 2 for before kickoff, 1 for showing up at all. Validated tickets do not score.
Reduce the size of the student section by 10%.
Prioritize renewals based on points, not seniority. Also prioritize bowl lotteries based on this. Top 10% get half off. Anyone below some crappy cutoff gets no tickets.
I'd love to see a similar policy enacted for regular season ticket holders but that's infeasible since they're already pressing them for maximum cash and cannot easily replace people pissed off by something like that with other super rich dudes.
This is the cost of luxury seating: seeing the most expensive seats in the building half-full at best. This is most obvious at Yost, where the club seats are literally 40% full for every game.
Special K: die in a fire. I've linked to various Penn State blogs complaining about the environment at Beaver Stadium to provide ominous warnings about what our future is like, but I thought that would be in five years… not five games. Volume: ear-splitting. Choices: inane. Seven Nation Army: played one dozen times, including before opening kickoff. It's bad when I am tired of 7NA. I once listened to 7NA for a half-hour straight until someone yelled at me to stop.
Meanwhile, we're treated to "GET LOUD" and an animated train exploding on the videoboards. (Instead of replays, of course, because who wants to watch a football game anymore?) We are Michigan State. It took less than a season. I was all like "you go girl" to this Bando Calrissian comment:
Yesterday was the closest to a minor league baseball game experience I've ever had at Michigan Stadium. The RAWK was out of control(and more often than not earsplittingly loud), the Rocket Man deal struck me as an unnecessary gimmick (play the Space, Bitches PSA and call it a day), that train graphic on the scoreboards, everything felt extraordinarily cheap and generic. Very un-Big House-esque.
And, here' s a fun fact: One of the highlights of Homecoming has always been the alumni cheerleaders doing gymnastic tricks in the end zones during stoppages in play. It's fun, and always gets the fans really into things during lulls in the action. They were told this year they were not allowed to do flips and such on the field, or so one of them told a few of us in Alumni Band. And it was true, they basically just sat and did nothing for the entire game.
A little bit at a time, the uniqueness of Michigan is being chipped away in favor of a generic, corporate, sterile experience. Seems to me "revenue streams" and marketing gurus rule the day in DB's Athletic Department, and it really doesn't need to be that way.
Corporate ass-covering and focus-group research, all of it. What's happening to Michigan Stadium is reason #1 this site will always remain independent. This is what you get for hiring someone who made his living sending people things they didn't want in the mail.
Yeah, guy who doesn't care about any of this and complains about people who do, you're cooler than those who do. Pop that collar.
THE ONE GOOD THING: No dog groomers except once before the band came out.
With apologies to Denard, this section belongs to Fitzgerald Toussaint this week. In fact, I will refer to him as Filthgerald. Filthgerald gained 170 yards on 20 carries, scored 2 TDs, had a long of 59 yards, and averaged 8.5 YPC. Can someone explain to me again why he only got two carries against staee? Forget that last comment, I’ve moved on.
Yes, I'm so damn scarred by the previous three seasons that, after Purdue's initial drive, I felt a flash of deju vu all over again. But Michigan stayed the course and eventually put Purdue away, pretty much by halftime and certainly before the 3rd quarter was over.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is hitting his stride. Finally healthy after two years of long-term injury issues, Toussaint is showing what he can do. He had 20 carries for 170 yards, including a spectacular 59-yard touchdown run (Michigan's longest run of the year). He's averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season. Perhaps the best part of Toussaint's game is the way he finishes runs. Despite not being particularly big, he always seems to churn his legs for an extra couple yards after contact. His yardage total was the best by a Michigan running back since Michael Hart had 215 against Eastern Michigan back in 2007.
At this point, Michigan is grabbing wins like items at an Old Country Buffet; these things might not be of high quality, but this is America and MORE is better than anything else. Yes, I am comparing the quality of Big Ten competition to the lukewarm comestibles of a buffet chain.
The Purdue point of view is unenthused or bizarrely optimistic. The former:
Purdue's execution, especially when it was really needed was atrocious. Conversely, UM shored-up the issues that had been exposed v. MSU following their bye week...and played soundly all game.
Michigan seemed to want to test Purdue physically in the trenches and Purdue failed as they looked pensive, slow and soft when popped in the mouth. The end result was a sound defeat for Hope's squad, 36-14...but it felt much worse than that score.
Yes, the final margin was 22 points, but we were close through three quarters and the difference of a few plays swung the scoreboard wildly in their direction. Things got wildly out of control after a few key mistakes, as often happens in college football.
I'm just all like… it was 36-7 at the start of the 4th and Purdue had 200 yards of offense to Michigan's 510. That's not a game that swung on a few plays. Elsewhere in his post Hammer and Rails's T-Mill gives Michigan plenty of credit, so this isn't a lol delusional homer thing. I'm just surprised anyone could do the point-at-critical-plays thing after that.
Media, as in dying legacy organizations (and ESPN). Before we get into the scoffing, the Daily covers the jetpack flight in column-length detail.
The scoffing! Man, does everyone want to seize upon this as proof Brady Hoke Gets It, This Is Michigan, and This Is Not Last Year:
Just like that, Fitzgerald Toussaint proves the Michigan football team can resemble its old self
Sometimes I wonder if my brain has mutated to the point where I'm not even watching the same game as some of these people. This is about the MSU game:
With the backs providing little to no punch offensively, Robinson was forced to become Michigan's exclusive run threat. Partly because of that, he was also subject to immense pressure in the passing game, as he was sacked four times and eventually forced to leave the contest early due to injury.
My version of this paragraph is "With Al Borges inexplicably enthralled with the passing game, Robinson only got twelve carries to go with Toussaint's two. Because of something entirely unrelated that also impacted the ground game, he was also subject to immense pressure in the pocket. Later he left with an injury caused by a late hit."
Yes, this is the usual mumbling about media narratives that have no relation to reality. You're like 3000 words into this post and are clearly addicted. Suck it up. This is the point in Requiem for a Dream where your arm is a mass of black veins and you're still shooting up.
[Toussaint] transforms into a sledgehammer when he runs between the hash marks.
He's not Carlos Brown but come on, dude. And I challenge you to distinguish this from a seventh-grader's B- paper:
Even against a powder-puff Big Ten team such as Purdue, the Wolverines regrouped after surrendering a 48-yard pass on a simple slant-screen that shredded the defense for a touchdown in the opening minutes of the game. No one panicked on the sideline. Instead, the much-maligned unit discussed it and agreed the appropriate response called for equal parts inspiration and perspiration, but no more excuses.
Holy pants. Someone agreed this paragraph should be set down in print and copied thousands of times so its wisdom could spread throughout the land, no more excuses.
In finding running game, Michigan re-joins Big Ten title race
Ann Arbor— As the day's events unfolded, one thing became clearer and clearer. Michigan is back in the running, and it got there by getting back to the running.
The Wolverines pounded a weaker foe Saturday, which isn't a big deal unless you acknowledge how it happened, and what happened elsewhere in the Big Ten. Michigan bashed Purdue, 36-14, and did the job without everyone waiting around for Denard Robinson to do the job.
Michigan's rushing offense before playing Purdue: 12th nationally. Rich Rodriguez: not involved with the decision to throw two-thirds of the time against Michigan State.
Strategy matters, simple things unrelated to hearty grit toughness can provide huge swings, coaches make mistakes frequently, and no one at a newspaper ever watches a game a second time. Facts.
So, it's Eastern and I haven't turned up much except this, but when there's this you don't need anything else. This:
BONUS: Thanks to the Ann Arbor Observer for being willing to share their photos from the Eastern Michigan game under the MGoBlog photopool. These are CC-licensed sideline photos that can be used by anyone for non-commercial purposes with attribution to Eric Upchurch. The full gallery:
The Observer says Eric will be on the sidelines for SDSU; future availability is on a game-by-game basis.
If you just want to see all of the pictures, you can skip to the gallery at the end, but here are a few of the more-interesting photos from media availability.
Denard lines up mostly in the shotgun when the media is allowed to watch, and also gets to wear white pants (an Adidas prototype, not available in maize yet).
Devin lines up mostly under center (though both QBs practice taking snaps under center).
Since the Athletic Department already spoiled the surprise in Tuesday's "Play of the Day" video, I don't feel guilty pointing it out. Yes, that is Mike Martin lined up at rush linebacker, and he sometimes drops into coverage as well.
Not gonna lie, Cam Gordon looks slick in all-whites.
Your starting defense appears to be Roh, Van Bergen, Campbell and Martin on the line, along with Tony Anderson, Carvin Johnson, Kovacs, and Avery in the secondary. The linebackers changed from practice-to-practice, with Cam Gordon the only constant (He's joined by Herron and Mike Jones on this play).
Thomas Gordon's name is spelled wrong on his jersey. That's probably why he's one of the few guys to wear a game jersey in practice (i.e. because it's defective).
Brady Hoke points at things a lot.
Troy Woolfolk back on the field! Here getting a pick in defensive skeleton drills. Looks much happier than he did in bowl practices:
He was also joking around with JT Floyd, his fellow injured DB.
This is the most receptive of any group he's had coming in (at all 8 or 9 stops). It would be easy to say "we were good last year" on offense, and resist changing. It's an enthusiastic group in spite of all the changes they've been asked to make. It's easy to teach them, because they've bought in.
Shotgun - used quite a bit. "We're gonna gun more than we've ever gunned." [ed: w00t.] They've run plenty of shotgun in the past, but this will be more than that. Two-tights is part of the offense, but you'll see as much shotgun as you'd see from any NFL team, and a lot of the tight end in motion.
Haven't done a whole lot of stuff this year that he's never done. "We have more QB runs, but that aside, our offense is our offense, and we're going to gear what we do to what he's capable of doing."
"[Brady] wants to establish toughness, and he wants to establish effort. And you can't talk it: you've gotta do it." Defense and offense are geared to downhill running, coming off the ball, etc. "Not that we want to turn it into 'bull elk on bull elk' on every single play."
Offense install - "We are now at install 5 today. We have 6 installs of major pieces of our offense." They'll add 'frills,' e.g. screens, 2-minute, goal line, etc. as it goes. "We've gone slower here than I have other places, because I'm trying to give Coach Funk in particular, but everybody... a chance to review and install." They'll complete install 6, and have 4 or 5 practices to review it all. "That's about 60-70%" of everything that they'll do.
The end of spring and fall camp are different beasts. In fall, you have to figure out your starters, and get them ready to play, then focus on your first opponent. "Right now, it's just an audition." They'll have a depth chart out of spring "Like anything else, it'll be in pencil."
Defense - "I very seldom comment on the defense other than to say 'Greg Mattison is as good a defensive coach as you're ever gonna get, and he will get every ounce out of those kids.'"
There's always pressure to succeed, whether or not you have talent. "If you're gonna have pressure, it's better to have talent."
"Michigan is a special place. The walls talk to you here. You walk down the hall and you can feel it... I coached at Auburn where football was a big deal, and I loved Auburn. This is a little different."
Denard and Devin both excited about the change. Doing some "next-level oriented" things, and that's attractive to QBs. More effective in this offense? "We want to pose a balanced distribution of the ball in an aggressive style." The tailbacks will be more involved. That will sacrifice numbers for the QB, but he might be able to throw more effectively with a power running game. He also poses a threat in the passing game as a runner with his scrambling.
Drop mechanics are toughest for Denard - even though he was a dropback QB in high school. With footwork issues - the biggest change - he has really grasped that concept well. "He's still a work in progress, but he's done very well."
"You run for yards but you pass for miles," though Denard is a better checkdown as a runner than throwing to a checkdown receiver might be. "Make plays, and let the good lord make miracles." They want him to use good judgement, but they'll let the kid run. "You have to give him a chance to do what he does."
Who compares to Denard? "Michael Vick is similar. Yeah, he's the first one that comes to mind." Most comparable with speed and passing ability.
Anticipation throws: "That is what he's been doing very well." Good on timing routes and throwing before the breaks. "The guy's an accurate passer... When they guy's open, he's gonna hit him more often than not. When he isn't open open, [Denard] has a way to create... A good passing game, the ball's delivered as the receiver comes open in a manner and fashion that allows the receiver to run with the ball once he catches it."
Denard reading defenses: "He's a pretty good decision-maker." His struggles are more within the offense, not making reads. "He's not hitting defenders in the chest with the ball."
No designed QB runs in last year's SDSU offense, but with Denard's ability, they'll go back to Cade McNown plays, for example, when Borges did have designed QB runs. "More people are going to touch the ball, yet he is going to be the focal point of the offense." If he's more effective running than the backs, he'll be used more as a runner.
Denard came out of 10 games last year with injury, SDSU's Ryan Lindley didn't come out of a single game last year. If giving the RB the ball a bit more keeps Denard healthy, then that's good. The tailbacks have to be worthy of those carries.
"He poses the threat of a quarterback draw every play." Scrambling - "If you understand the footwork of our offense, that comes naturally." The guards set the depth of the pocket, and the tackles set the width. With only 4 rushers against 5 linemen, there should be scrambling lanes if necessary. "Certain quarterbacks will run 5 or 6 yards, he may run 55 yards." They tell Denard "don't turn down wide open receivers, but if they fall off, run like hell."
Devin competition - "Devin is formidable." He does some really good things. Has some of the same traits as Denard, but is a taller prototype with pocket passer height. Can work inside the pocket more easily, but he obviously isn't as fast as Denard. "You play or somebody replaces you. It's that simple." At this point, Denard is the starter, and there's no reason to believe he won't be in the fall - even though Devin is pushing him. "They're competing and I love it."
Planned playing time for backup QBs? "I would never say never, but it's never been my approach." Borges doesn't really believe in putting the backup in for a series every game or something.
"I've been happy with our tailbacks... We've had flashes of excellence from all of them, and [picking a starter]'s not a decision we have to make today." For one back to stand out, he'll have to be a complete player. "Block and protection, run the football, be consistent. The guy who demonstrates the most consistency is the guy who's gonna play."
"Vince Smith is a pure football player, I mean in every sense. He's coachable, tough, not real big obviously but I've had guys his size be very effective... Vince has a good football IQ. You tell him something, he understands what you're talking about, and he'll do it."
"Michael Cox has done some very nice things."
Michael Shaw just came back to padded practices (from a broken hand) and he's made some nice plays.
Who can be downhill RBs - "All of them really... Cox has done it, Shaw came back the other day and he did it, Stephen Hopkins is just that kind of runner, period." Hopkins is a lot like Atlanta RB Michael Turner. He is a hybrid RB/FB, and has done some nice things.
McColgan has done a great job leading the way for the backs. Not gonna show up in the scoresheet, but helps the running game.
"I think Roy's had a really good spring. All them, really. We've had some nice catches." Roundtree has been very consistent. Junior Hemingway is moving well, and has great range. Darryl Stonum has also played well. "Jeff Hecklinski does a nice job with those guys. He'll coach those suckers up." They're running more intermediate cut routes in this offense. "We throw it down the field a lot, but more intermediate cuts."
Gallon and Dileo, et al, role has not changed a whole lot. Odoms and Roundtree have played inside and outside. "We're not a spread team, but you're gonna see we're in 3 and 4 wides a lot now."
TE position is similar to the FB - not heavily featured in the recent past, but they're catching more balls than they've caught in the past. "I'm a tight end guy."
Brandon Moore has been very effective. Steve Watson caught a TD pass the other day. "Steve's fired up."
"We've got some good people there, and I think when it's all said and done we'll be pretty good there." They will recruit tight ends heavily going forward.
Injuries on the offensive line haven't affected installation too much. "We found a way to get 5 of them out there, and they haven't done a bad job." Some guys are having to learn multiple positions.
Lewan could be a good football player - needs to add weight, and work on some fundamental technique issues. He has the talent for a bright future.
"We're a downhill running team." Their scheme is geared to O-line getting off the ball and being aggressive. "We're in a 3-point stance and we're gonna do our best to move whoever's in front of us." It's different playing from the shotgun every snap.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's press conference and the first day of spring practice. Follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue) for live updates.
Injuries: David Molk and Vincent Smith are out for spring with knee injuries. Junior Hemingway and Brandon Herron had recent knee surgeries, hopefully Hemingway will be able to make it back for the end of spring practice. Zac Johnson and Mike Martin are limited (non-contact) for the spring with shoulder injuries.
Nick Sheridan and Bryan Wright are no longer on the football team. Sheridan wants to go into coaching, but he can't work with the football team now, since he hasn't graduated. Wright's persistent back issues have led him to give up the game, and he's going to graduate and move on.
Position changes: Cameron Gordon has been moved to safety, as has Teric Jones. This means Troy Woolfolk and Justin Turner will both play corner this spring. There's the potential that one or both of them can move to safety down the road.
Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are options 1 and 2 at quarterback. When Denard isn't taking snaps, he's too valuable to take off the field, and they'll give him some run at wide receiver (there's enough running back depth that they won't need him there). Devin Gardner has a great work ethic, and he'll be willing to earn any playing time he might get. Rodriguez is glad he could get in for spring, because there's a lot to learn.
At the running back position, a number of guys are competing with Vincent Smith out for spring practice. Michael Shaw, Mike Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will fill in, along with the two freshmen (Austin White and Stephen Hopkins), and there's a chance that some slot receivers get reps at that position as well.
The team knows that they always have something to prove. Even if Michigan had performed better on the field in the past two years, there's always something to prove.
Brendan Gibbons and Will Hagerup were the only two kicking specialists mentioned. Gibbons seems to be the favorite at kicker, and Hagerup won't arrive until fall, but will probably punt.
Many offensive linemen worked hard to improve their bodies in the off-season, especially the freshmen Quinton Washington, Taylor Lewan, and Michael Schofield. They'll be in the mix for some playing time.
Elsewhere on the offensive line, Rocko Khoury, Elliott Mealer, and Christian Pace will play center with Molk out for spring. Rodriguez likes to have four guys who can snap the ball. When Molk is healthy in the fall, there's a good chance that he'll be one of the best centers in the Big Ten.
Brandon Graham will be missed from both a production and leadership standpoint. On the field, Ryan Van Bergen, Greg Banks, Adam Patterson, and even Craig Roh will play his old spot. RVB and Banks will play both inside and outside on the DL. As for leadership, the veterans will have to step up, even though there's a very small group of seniors this year.
The defense should be able to take a step forward in the second year under the same defensive coordinator. A few schemes will be tweaked, but they'll try to keep them simpler, because there's a good chance some true freshmen will have to fill in this fall. The coaches are going to try for a bigger rotation defensively, so more guys will see the field.
"Buying in" is not an issue for this team (anymore?), things now come down to a matter of executing properly to improve performance in games.
As for practice, most of the useful information will probably come from the pictures, but a couple quick observations:
Vincent Smith was wearing a red jersey, but in his football gear. Dave Molk was practicing snaps.
Nick Sheridan was hanging around watching in street clothes.
Stephen Hopkins is frickin' huge. That kid will be a tank with the ball in his hands.
Gardner's throwing motion looks improved from the end of his high school season. Once he is able to get actual coaching, it should continue getting better.
I thought Christian Pace looked much bigger than he did on Signing Day, though it may have just been the difference in wardrobe (warmups on Signing Day). He didn't even look like an offensive lineman in February.
Apologies if the quality is a little worse than usual; I don't have the mad editing skillz that Paul does.