Spring Stuff 2016: Defense, Special Teams

Spring Stuff 2016: Defense, Special Teams Comment Count

Brian April 5th, 2016 at 1:53 PM

Previously: offense.

Defensive line

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SDE Charlton has been tough to handle [Eric Upchurch]

The most interesting thing about the configuration of the defense thus far is the weakside end. I thought they'd shift Taco Charlton over there and go with a very large and very fierce unit; instead Charlton looks set to start on the strongside and Chase Winovich is a tentative leader on the weakside. Chris Wormley spent most snaps I saw from him at three-tech.

While there's a chance that Michigan reconfigures once Ryan Glasgow gets re-added to the mix, right now it looks like Michigan will have a line that looks a lot like a traditional 4-3 under line instead of the mondo unit they could have had. One man's current guess at what a depth chart looks like in fall:

  • SDE: Charlton, Gary
  • NT: Glasgow, Mone, Hurst
  • 3T: Wormley, Godin
  • WDE: Winovich, Marshall

If they can get production out of Winovich that's an incredibly deep, veteran, and proven defensive line. If Winovich doesn't work out you can slide Charlton over and still have a great two-deep at the bigger spots, but this is Don Brown's first draft.

So… Winovich. After a rather wasted year spent at h-back he returned to defense, now bulked up to 245 pounds. That's light, but if he can get up to 250 or 255 by fall—reasonable—it's not eye-poppingly so. And WDE does fit his talents. As a recruit he was reputed to be Jake Ryan 2.0, and weakside end is a spot Ryan definitely could have played. Winovich has started gathering some hype himself:

Chase Winovich had himself a day at defensive end.  We’d said all week that he was a bigger, stronger version of his former self. Grant Newsome definitely learned that Friday.  Winovich won their one on one match-up, and was one of the best edge rushers on the day.  On one play he literally flattened Newsome with a bull rush to get into the backfield.

Whether that's hooray Winovich or a collar pull about Newsome is in the eye of the beholder. On the downside from that report: on "more than one occasion" Winovich got edged and lost contain. (Yes, just like Jake Ryan.) He's going to have to cause a lot of havoc to make up for what projects to be a serious downgrade in run efficacy from the much larger and more experienced Charlton.

Meanwhile, apparently all that irrational Bryan Mone hype last year was shared by the coaching staff:

"He was one of our top players last year," Mone said. "We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."

I have many questions about that assertion. They will never be answered.

Mone seems to have picked up where he left off before his injury, but to be honest I didn't see much from him in either practice I observed. I wasn't looking for him much since nose tackle is just about dead last on my list of concerns for 2016; even so last year you saw Maurice Hurst blow through an assortment of players, including Graham Glasgow, en route to spring hype and a very productive season. Mone didn't deliver that when in front of fans. He did draw a tough matchup against Mason Cole, to be fair. I'm still waiting for him to indicate that he's going to be better than Glasgow was a year ago.

That said, Mone was very impressive in Florida:

He was rarely blocked one-on-one, and managed to still be effective against the double team. Twice in the early portion of 11-on-11 action he engaged Ben Braden, tossed the 322 lb. offensive lineman to the side with relative ease, and then got in on the play in the backfield. On another play he split Braden and Mason Cole with great off-snap quickness and nailed Ty Isaac in the backfield.

I'd have liked to see that myself; it's good that someone did.

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Godin's playing time might get squeezed [Upchurch]

Chris Wormley is still Chris Wormley. He'll probably be incrementally stronger and better and this will be a very good thing indeed. Matt Godin had an impressive spring game, blowing through a number of second-string OL. I thought he'd be a better fit at SDE, where he was on relatively level footing with Wormley early last season, than three-tech but Michigan looks set to play him on the interior. That might make it tough for him to get a lot of time—he is not likely to pass any of the other four DTs. The current Taco/Winovich DE setup steps on his toes more than anyone else.

Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones played a lot as DEs on the white team and mostly got beat up. That's not a huge surprise since Kemp is a freshman and Jones is still listed at 222 pounds on the (possibly outdated) roster. I wouldn't expect either to break through this year.

Linebackers

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McCray is a thumper [Upchurch]

Mike McCray is obviously the story of the spring here, and it was appropriate that he was one of the main reasons his team stuffed Henry Poggi on the goal line to end the Spring Game. McCray brings a load. At Ford Field he hammered a number of lead blocks like James Ross playing a Penn State OL. He is a tough customer.

What remains to be seen is whether he's a two-down backer or if he's fast enough to be an asset in coverage. Noises coming out of practice are positive. Per Lorenz Michigan is "quietly excited and optimistic"; Webb observed him have a lights out practice down in Florida:

Early in 11-on-11 action he met Ty Isaac in the hole and brought him down for no gain. A few plays later he showed nice feel in coverage and would have de-cleated Jack Wangler on a crossing pattern.  His best play came later on in the practice when he timed a blitz perfectly and tagged Kareem Walker in the backfield. 

While McCray ended up chasing a lot of completed mesh routes in the spring game I wouldn't read too much into that: mesh is designed to hang up man-to-man defenders trying to cover those drag routes. It did so with McCray. I'm assuming Michigan has better answers for mesh that they declined to show the public.

McCray did get juked by O'Korn on the final touchdown, but he was in a ton of space and did force the play back to his help. That help did not arrive in time. Ideally you get an open-field tackle like those Delano Hill turned in a couple times last year, but failing that McCray at least mitigated damage insofar as that was possible. 

Ben Gedeon remains just as much of a default starter as he was before the spring. Harbaugh is saying all the right things about him, calling him a "stud" amongst other praise. When you've got a guy who hasn't quite established himself but will start because there are no other options save freshmen your floor can be very low—Johnny Sears is the canonical example. There was never going to be a way for Gedeon to disprove that this spring.

At least we have seen enough of Gedeon to estimate that he'll be all right—he was more or less a starter for a game in the middle of the season when Michigan was suffering through their ridiculous targeting call period, and he did fine. As long as he doesn't run upfield of blocks I'm good.

McCray's emergence allows the Devin Bush Jr project to have a more reasonable timeframe. Going into spring everyone was assuming he'd end up starting out of necessity; exiting it he's probably in the same position Gedeon was last year: a rotation player who spots both starters. That's still not ideal, but neither is it starting a freshman. Bush didn't generate a ton of buzz other than the occasional mention of a big hit and he didn't leap out at me. He was of course victimized by Ty Wheatley on that one play, but when you force a one-handed attempt to catch a pass you've done your job.

Noah Furbush did not play in the spring game, which is unfortunate since he came in for a reasonable amount of hype himself as Jabrill Peppers's main competition at SAM. Sam related that Harbaugh "loves" Furbush's attitude and general guy-ness, and he did have a number of impressive special teams plays a year ago. Obviously Furbush and Peppers are not particularly similar players—Furbush coming into his own would allow Michigan to move Peppers around.

Jared Wangler was out with a meniscus injury.

Secondary

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Thomas is fast [Bryan Fuller]

Another reason I wouldn't read too much into the crossing routes that were wide open all day: somehow the top six defensive backs* all ended up on the white team, and after the opening series we saw little of Lewis and Stribling. Victims on the crossing routes were often walk-ons.

Most downfield passes were attempted against guys who don't project to see the field much this year. Ken Stross was this year's version of Norfleet: a converted WR who gets bombed all day.

There were a couple of plays of note for projected contributors, this one the most impressive:

Dymonte Thomas came from the dead center of the field to get over the top of a reasonably well-thrown ball near the back corner of the endzone. He took off as soon as Morris committed to one side of the field, which is encouraging.

Jarrod Wilson, blessed be his boring name, is not making that play. I can't imagine many people do. If Thomas can reliably execute his assignments he has the potential to be something Michigan hasn't seen since Marcus Ray**: a bonafide playmaking safety.

The other play of note was discussed yesterday when we talked about Drake Harris and can be seen briefly at the 52 second mark of the above highlights: Jeremy Clark with fantastic coverage on Harris. I don't doubt that Channing Stribling's had an impressive spring, especially since he got the sure-starter yoink on Friday and this vote of confidence from Harbaugh…

“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone.:"

…but at Ford Field and the Spring Game it's been Jeremy Clark who looks like the guy.

Per Webb, down in Florida it was the other way, with Stribling on fire:

Channing Stribling was given the game ball by Jim Harbaugh after practice #4 and with good reason. … His route recognition led to numerous plays including two interceptions. His first pick came while covering Drake Harris and seemed to run the pattern better than his offensive counterpart before jumping it and intercepting the ball. He nearly picked off another pass… a deep out to Harris… where he also seem to run that route better than Harris also before knocking it away.  His second interception occurred when the Sean McKeon beat Noah Furbush down the seam and Stribling slid over the top to help, skied for the ball, and picked it off. 

I expect that competition to be hot and heavy this fall. TBH I'd be perfectly happy with another year just like the one Clark turned in, minus some of the absurdly bad luck he suffered. For Stribling to surge past is a potentially excellent sign.

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Kinnel is hugely important for 2017 [Upchurch]

Tyree Kinnel was the other name of note. He turned in a pick-six at Ford Field and looked very comfortable in a box safety role in the spring game. Despite that, Harbaugh made it clear that the two starters have "nobody really pushing them right now."

*[minus Peppers, if he's more of a linebacker.]

**[Ernest Shazor's candidacy here was rejected since he made as many plays for the opposition as his own team. ]

Special teams?

Michigan didn't run any full-go, but there was the occasional thing of note:

  • At Ford Field it looked like Michigan was trying to find folks other than Peppers to take kickoffs back. They can get similar production from some of their other fast guys and lighten the load on their two-way star.
  • They did practice both NFL and spread punting; in the game they went entirely spread.
  • Kenny Allen had a booming conventional punt. This does not surprise since he's been blasting them in practice for years. It is unlikely he has the precision that Blake O'Neill did but if Michigan needs to send it 60 yards he's more than capable.
  • Andrew David has been tasked with rugby punting. He had a pooch punt that was relatively effective.
  • Can't judge return units since nothing was full contact.
  • Chris Partridge appears to be the main guy on special teams, with little help from other people, at least on the practice field.
  • David was shaky on field goals.

I expect Allen to take the large bulk of the kicking jobs. Surprise!

Comments

Spring Practice Presser 3/26/16: Jim Harbaugh

Spring Practice Presser 3/26/16: Jim Harbaugh Comment Count

Adam Schnepp March 28th, 2016 at 11:19 AM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

News bullets and other items:

  • Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
  • Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
  • Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
  • Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
  • Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
  • Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.

What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?

“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”

Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?

“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”

What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?

“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”

They don’t anymore.

/long pause

“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”

With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?

“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”

Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?

“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”

[Hit THE JUMP for more]

Comments

Saturday's Detroit Practice Is Now Open

Saturday's Detroit Practice Is Now Open Comment Count

Brian March 24th, 2016 at 1:43 PM

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Saturday will be the first time anyone is happy with a local football team at Ford Field

Michigan's Ford Field practice has been thrown open to the public, with one slight catch: you've got to reserve tickets on the Detroit Lions' site. Noon to four PM, Saturday. Pretty cool, you guys. A hypothetical second round game in the NCAA hockey tournament would be at 6 PM so no overlap there, thankfully.

Comments

Spring Practice Presser 3/22/16: Jay Harbaugh

Spring Practice Presser 3/22/16: Jay Harbaugh Comment Count

Adam Schnepp March 23rd, 2016 at 9:59 AM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

So Jay, how’s your new house? I saw you bought a house on Twitter.

“Uh, I have no heat. Gas got shut off even though I tried to not have it shut off, so I haven’t slept there yet. No heat. It’s about 35 degrees in there. Not great.”

MGoQuestion: Are you guys still going to use the shield punt formation this year?

“We’re going to have a bunch of different things. Shield will be one of the things that we do. I think we’re going to be kind of hybrid—a little bit of everything.”

MGoFollowUp: What led to that decision?

“To basically change it up?”

MGoWe’reOnTheSamePage: To switch it up, yeah.

“I think when you look at what teams are doing nationally I think out of 120 teams probably 75 or so, maybe 65-75 that are some variation of hybrid, meaning they’re not really pro-style, they’re not really shield, they kind of go back and forth; it’s a little harder to identify. Those are the teams that generally have the most success, so probably go that route.”

We saw a lot of Wheatley working with Butt and that first group when we were in Florida. How has that evolved? Is he still among those fighting for that other spot?

“Yeah. I mean, we traveled six guys to all the games so there’s really no other spot to be won. There’s certain jobs to be won, maybe, in terms of, ‘Hey, you’re going to do this role on this play’ but I wouldn’t think of it like that in terms of ‘Hey, this guy’s fighting for that third tight end spot.’

“We want to put guys in positions to do things that they’re good at anyway, but he is doing well and he’s one of that group of guys that kind of rotates with the ones. There’s really four or five of them, though.”

With a guy like Jake, as good as he is and experienced, how much of a comfort is he for whoever emerges at quarterback to know that Jake’s probably going to be open and he’s probably going to catch the ball?

“I would imagine it’s pretty nice. I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine that’s a pretty great thing to have him and Amara and then eventually Jehu out there. That’s got to make you feel really good throwing the ball.”

Can Kenny [Allen] punt and kick field goals if needed?

“Certainly. Yeah, Kenny’s very good and he has a very good sense of how much he can handle physically and he’s not going to wear himself out, so he can certainly do it all.”

Doesn’t seem like an ideal situation though, is it?

“Mm, no. Ideally yeah, you’d have a different person for everything but the really ideal thing is to have the best guy at each spot. If he happens to be the best guy at each spot then we’re good with that, but there’s still a long ways to go. And those guys, that’s one position where you can really develop quite a bit in the offseason more so than some other spots where it’s more just strength and conditioning. Specialists can actually improve their craft more than some other spots, I think.”

Have you had a chance to do many returns yet, and are there any different guys mixing in than what we saw last fall?

“I wouldn’t say different expect for new guys like Kareem [Walker]. But Jehu and Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill, Dymonte [Thomas], Kareem. I mean, I think that group as a whole is really, really good. I’d be surprised if there’s a better group as a whole in the country. All those guys are pretty dangerous.”

You mentioned four or five other tight ends. Who’s in that group, and is it a little deeper than it was last year, would you say?

“Umm, it probably is. I mean, at one point or another this spring we’ve had Jake [Butt], Ian [Bunting], TJ [Wheatley], and Sean McKeon and Gentry with the ones obviously doing different things. I’d like to put everyone in a position to succeed. TJ can do things different than Gentry; just naturally they’re very different body types and they have different strengths and weaknesses at this point. But yeah, at one point or another each of those guys has been with the ones.”

[After THE JUMP: Jake Butt, best tight end in America; recruiting a dominant trait; why Gentry moved to TE; Ol’ Skillet Hands hype]

Comments

Spring Practice Presser 3/17/16: Brian Smith

Spring Practice Presser 3/17/16: Brian Smith Comment Count

Adam Schnepp March 18th, 2016 at 4:00 PM

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[Isaiah Hole/247]

What led to the decision to come here?

“It was just a great opportunity to work with coach Harbaugh. He’s had a lot of success everywhere he’s been, so honestly I just wanted to be a part of that and learn from him. And also the chance to work with coach Brown, who I’ve worked with before and I’ve played with. It was a chance to meet up with him again and work side by side, so I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”

Difficult transition at all going straight to Florida like that and not even knowing any of the player’s names at this point, it’s such a quick decision?

“Yeah, I mean, everything happened fast. The whole process, just learning names out on the field the first day. But like I said, I’ve worked with coach Brown before in the past so that made the transition a lot easier for me. But just spending extra time trying to get in the playbook myself, learning it along with the players, was a fun process.”

What was Jim’s pitch to you coming to Michigan?

“Well, he didn’t really have to pitch too much. Michigan kind of speaks for itself. It’s a great university and they’ve had a lot of success in the past, and just the opportunity to be here I couldn’t pass up.”

More enjoyable to play for coach Brown or to work with him?

“Well it was great to play for him in that defense that he has. It’s changed a little bit over the years but not much. It’s still the same philosophy, so as a player you love that style of defense.”

We’ve heard a lot about the front seven in his defense. How does that impact the back four?

“He always does a good job stopping the run and it makes teams one-dimensional, so it helps us out.”

MGoQuestion: What are the characteristics of the ideal free and strong safety in this defense?

“Well, we like guys that have length, that are athletic, that can play man-to-man. You know, those are some of the things that we look for. At the end of the day, football players- guys that are football players, tough, [and] love to play the game.”

[After THE JUMP: it’s a press conference of course Jabrill comes up]

Comments

Spring Practice Presser 3/10/16: Tyrone Wheatley

Spring Practice Presser 3/10/16: Tyrone Wheatley Comment Count

Adam Schnepp March 11th, 2016 at 11:45 AM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

How’s the running back group progressing through six practices?

“Progressing well. Just trying to get certain guys like De’Veon [Smith] and Ty Isaac to what I call a mastery level, meaning that it’s progressing past the things we did last year. Instead of going through the hole and getting tackled by a guy it’s really working some moves, try and improve your game.

“With the younger guys, they’re doing well. They’re right where I’d expect them to be. A little overloaded in some aspects in terms of the information coming in on them, but they all look good. They all look good.”

How do you keep De’Veon healthy for a whole year?

“How do I keep him healthy for a full year?”

Yeah. I mean, that was obviously the challenge last year.
”He was healthy. He was relatively healthy. I mean, any football guy who lines up and takes that first—it’s like a car. Once you take that car off the lot it depreciates. It’s never going to be 100% value. So in terms of De’Veon, I think he was healthy besides the toe. But in terms of being healthy, some of the things we’re talking about now: being able to not run down the middle of guys, taking so many hits, being able to make some guys miss. That will improve his health, but I think relatively compared to last year he was relatively healthy.”

WelpThisWasGoingToBeMyMGoQuestion: What’s a realistic expectation for the two freshmen?

“Expectation? They’re true freshmen.”

So how much would that be?

“They’re freshmen! We won’t know. Right now it’s too hard to put anything on it. I’ll just put it to you this way: it’s freshmen. They’re freshmen. I mean, they’re good freshmen, but the fact of the matter is they’re freshmen. So to put an expectation on it is really unfair right now.”

For Ty [Isaac], who probably didn’t see as many carries as he wanted to last year, getting to the mastery level, has he put in more work? Has he taken to that a little bit differently this year?

“Yeah. I mean, regardless the point of the snaps, it’s still just age and being around and hearing it, so trying to take his game to that next level. So yeah, I mean, he’s working. He worked last year. He’s working this year. Sometimes a guy may just outwork you. That’s just a thing. It’s not that he did anything wrong last year. But he’s working hard. Yes, he is. Putting in the work.”

Do you feel like Drake [Johnson] is finally back to finally maybe 100%? He’s running track, too. He said that’s helping his leg and knee strength.

“Well, unfortunate part about me, I never was here when Drake was Drake Drake. So what I saw last year and just seeing a guy who’s coming off an ACL, he looked pretty darn good. So if we can improve him and get him past that, we should be looking at a much improved Drake, and he is looking good. In terms of track, he has a little more burst to him. But just in terms of football-wise, we’re trying to get Drake to that mastery level as well. It’s moving past little things like getting tackled, little better in pass-pro, things of that nature. So he’s one of those guys we’re trying to get to that mastery level.”

[After THE JUMP: some good news re: fullbacks, more on achieving RB mastery level]

Comments

Spring Practice Presser 3/8/16: Chris Partridge

Spring Practice Presser 3/8/16: Chris Partridge Comment Count

Adam Schnepp March 9th, 2016 at 4:00 PM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

One of your big focuses in coaching has always been on the defensive line. What’s the adjustment been like for you to coaching linebackers?

“Well, yeah, so no, it really hasn’t. I’ve been a linebacker coach pretty much my whole career. I played it and coached it. I spent a year coaching d-line is all. It’s been pretty smooth. In December, you know, getting prepared for the bowl and just being surrounded by those guys who played so much football here in Joe Bolden and Des [Morgan] and [James] Ross, they helped my transition there in December and it’s been real smooth.”

You’re at a position where there’ve been a lot of losses so it’s kind of a key focus for you to get that ready. What’s that been like so far?

“Oh, it’s awesome, you know. It’s a challenge. We got to get some young guys ready to go, and we’ve got some great guys that are coming back that have played a lot of football, too. Ben Gedeon has stepped in and been an incredible leader right off the bat. And then coach Brown, coach Brown’s right in there with me with the backers. He’s a seasoned, veteran coach that understands how to get guys ready to go so it’s been pretty smooth. We’re working hard.”

Has Mike McCray been full go? He’s had a lot of shoulder issues over the years. Is he doing alright with that?

“Yeah, he’s been incredible over the past first five practices. He’s a pleasant surprise. You know, you kind of knew he had it in him and just his first five practices have been phenomenal.”

And is Jabrill working with you, or is he working with the safeties coaches still? What’s that situation?

“Uh, Jabrill works with a lot of people. You know, he’s with me, he’s with the safeties coaches, he’s kind of everywhere. He’s a smart football player that can take on a lot and we’re going to ask him to take on a lot, so I think the sky’s the limit on what positions he can play. We might even line him up at nose tackle this year if we can.”

When he’s up close to the line, what’s the biggest threat he presents to an offense?

“He can get to the quarterback in under a second off the ball. He’s got quickness. He’s going to put some o-linemen in some tough situations coming off the edge, and he can also drop and get to the flat real quick. And he can cover a guy from the line of scrimmage, be it a tight end or a back out of the backfield, so he can do some real dynamic things for us there.”

[After THE JUMP: “It’s their third defense here in three years and they’ve picked it up really well. It’s exciting to see. It hasn’t been as hard a transition as people might think.”]

Comments

Unverified Voracity Baked In An Unforgiving Oven

Unverified Voracity Baked In An Unforgiving Oven Comment Count

Brian March 8th, 2016 at 1:19 PM

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Johnson pictured before he was immolated by 73-degree temperatures [Patrick Barron]

The humanity. Michigan's Florida trip was just another step towards the destruction of collegiate athletics:

"It's been wonderful," running back Drake Johnson said. "I think the team bonding aspect was the best. Obviously, we're here to learn football, but I think being together this whole time, sometimes being on campus can kind of spread you away from your team because you're caught up in school life. Being here has allowed us to accelerate the process of learning."

They will never recover. I will play the world's tiniest violin for them.

Soon, but not yet. Harbaugh on one Brandon Peters:

"It's impressive what he did (this week), as young as he is, being out here for the first time, he's got some real coolness about him," Harbaugh said unprompted Friday evening after the team's final practice at IMG Academy. "It showed up over and over in each of the four days.

"He's not a guy that panics. He's a natural in a lot of ways."

I mean, that sounds like "very soon" but some of the praise on offer here is definitely of the "for a freshman" variety:

"A lot of times with freshman quarterbacks, let alone someone who is coming in at mid-year, you expect fumbled snaps or they can't get out of the huddle. But he was out of the huddle on every snap, every call."

So maybe we can pump the brakes on the inevitable Brandon Peters Is A Real Challenger chatter. Here's hoping he goes redshirt, backup, really good redshirt sophomore. If someone else doesn't pip him in two years.

Linebacker group taking shape. Harbaugh called Ben Gedeon a "stud" after four spring practices, so let's hang on to that when we're squeezing our worry balls about the linebacking corps over the offseason. Also:

“I think Noah Furbush is going to contribute,” Harbaugh said. “Devin Bush Jr. is going to be good (too). So we got some real good players in there. I feel much better about our linebacker situation after four days.”

On the one hand, awesome. On the other, four mostly unpadded days. Harbaugh also praised McCray but noted his injury history. He can hang out with Drake Harris in his dorm room made entirely from bubble wrap and soothing whale song.

Satellite camps are on. Michigan's got one scheduled in Alabama for June 6th, so those haven't been banned yet.

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[Melanie Maxwell/MLive]

MAAR profiled. Or Rahk or whatevs man. Brendan Quinn talks to his dad about the origin of the name:

"Oh!" the 58-year-old booms. "I tell you, man, to this day, it was the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life."

It's a Saturday morning in Manhattan and Dawud Abdur-Rahkman — the former David Cody — is rolling. The busy coffee shop disappears as he smiles and squints, telling the story of how he met Muhammad Ali in 1978. His voice crackles like old vinyl.

Every memory is vivid: Ali's sweat flying as he sparred. Ali looking 10-feet tall. Ali taunting the kids in jest, "I told you chumps I'm the greatest!" He remembers meeting Ali one-on-one and only being able to muster, with a tremble, "How you doing, Champ?"

Hey, I remember getting blitzed by that dude. The New York Times has an article on Keith Frazier, former SMU player and walking academic red flag who serves as a poster child for the ridiculousness of the one-and-done rule imposed on the NCAA by the NBA:

Frazier’s educational track record was pockmarked with failure. His high school grades mysteriously and quickly improved whenever his eligibility to play was at stake. He most likely had too many absences and failing grades to graduate from high school. And top officials at S.M.U. ignored their own professors, who recommended that Frazier not be admitted to S.M.U., an academically tough university.

Frazier took an online summer course before enrolling in freshman classes. An S.M.U. team assistant secretly completed Frazier’s work, an N.C.A.A. report found.

Frazier played against Michigan, helped SMU torch us, and has since left school. He would have been better off in the NBA from the drop… and in this case, SMU would have been better off as well. But guys like Frazier are all over college basketball, because they have to be.

This isn't a situation like football where there is a legitimate safety concern for recent high schoolers being put in the shark tank against guys like JJ Watt; it's solely the NBA using the NCAA as a marketing arm. Unfortunately I don't see a solution since the NFL's rule was challenged in court and stood because it was part of a CBA. Jim Delany proposing the return of freshman ineligibility is the nuclear option that will never happen… and really seems like the only option, period.

See also: Ben Simmons, who was left off the Wooden list because of his GPA in his only semester of college.

NOPE. If you're wondering who secured an interview with Tom Anastos and managed to turn it into a sympathetic piece for a guy who has MSU hockey 42nd in RPI in year five, well, it's Graham Couch because of course it is. MSU is so bad at hockey that it makes me, a Michigan fan, upset. And it's worse when Anastos's solution to MSU's problems is to bring in overage players:

Q: What’s the timeline now for the turnaround, to be closer to what North Dakota and other elite programs are on the ice, where there’s a noticeable difference? You’ve got a heralded class coming in but those guys will be young next year.

Anastos: “Yeah, but we have some older kids coming in. We’re not getting to the point where we’re starting to be able to be more patient (in when we bring in a recruit). … To answer your question about North Dakota, I thought it would take a good eight or nine years to be able to get ourselves in a position where you’re competing for those most elite prospects, and you can build the depth in your roster."

Dude was supposed to be connected to every junior program in the state and he cannot compete for the same recruits Michigan does. I'll admit that I don't know a ton about MSU's incoming class but it doesn't seem "heralded" by anyone. It has zero NTDP players. Only one of their guys was even ranked in the midterm CSB rankings. It's not even that old, five years in. North Dakota mostly recruits like Michigan and BC do; the old dudes strategy is one that second-tier programs use to offset the fact they're not bringing in the Kyle Connors of the world.

Why Anastos thinks it would take twice as long as a player is eligible to turn around a program is obvious: it's the only possible justification for the guy keeping his job. Fire this dude, fire Mike Eaves, go to home series in the playoffs, Make the Big Ten Great for the First Time.

Also hire Mel Pearson, Michigan.

Etc.: This is a tradition I could do without. Further reminding us of the Amaker era, Michigan is the 8 seed in the Big Ten tourney and will play Northwestern at noon on Thursday. Big Ten hockey guy who isn't a hockey guy tries to defend league's sneaky rules ploy, fails. Calls removing eligibility from 21-year-old freshman a "modest proposal," unironically.

Ball screens not so much this year.

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One Pile Of Spring Practice Stuff

One Pile Of Spring Practice Stuff Comment Count

Brian March 4th, 2016 at 1:15 PM

I enjoy the guy yelling in the background.

Harbaugh has thrown the doors open down in Florida. There is a pile of stuff. So much stuff. Even before the open practice at 5PM today, there is so much stuff. Let's talk things and stuff.

First: yes, this is just technique work and mostly unpadded at that. Takes have largely been about throwing, catching, and defending said throws—there's not much you can take away on either line thus far. Oh and one other thing.

Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker

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[Bryan Fuller]

The most meaningful thing from the first few spring practices is the apparent move of Jabrill Peppers to strongside linebacker. Or, as they called it last year, "hybrid linebacker." While the nomenclature has changed it doesn't seem like a whole lot else has:

Through the first two days of camp, Peppers has played in the box almost exclusively. He's spent most of his time blitzing, supporting the run and covering tight ends underneath during 11 on 11 drills. In 7 on 7 workouts, he's drifted out to cover slot receivers, but he's never far away from the line of scrimmage.

That's more or less what Michigan did with him a year ago. The exception: against certain two-WR sets Peppers would slide out to boundary cornerback. Last year Don Brown rode with 6'1", 218-pound Matt Milano as his SAM, and all that dude did was lead the team in TFLs with 17.5 and add 6.5 sacks. Peppers is likely to be around that size, if a hair shorter, and obviously brings much more athleticism to the table. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is. I am still comfortable making that assumption.)

Wolverine Devotee put together an every snap video from the BC-FSU game last year; Milano is 28. You'll see him lined up as an actual linebacker against heavier formations and often over the slot in lighter ones:

How does this change what everyone else does? One thing it likely signals is that the days where Michigan lined up a safety 15 yards back are over. To get away with the kind of light linebackers Brown favors you need to have all eleven guys potentially involved in the run game. You can expect Michigan to run "over" fronts most of the time, but that's not a change.

It also puts more pressure on the safeties to be able to defend man to man. Ian Boyd noted that the "ability of [BC] safeties to play deep overage is probably the strongest point" of Don Brown's most recent defense.  I'm a bit leery of that given what we saw from Michigan last year—neither Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas did a great job in those situations—but at least Thomas is fast enough to prevent a quick six points if he gets soloed up on a slot and things go badly for M.

Going forward, Tyree Kinnel will be very important. He entered Michigan with a reputation as a CB/S hybrid and that's exactly what Brown wants from his safeties.

The other SAM

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we only have one Furbush picture so you might want to settle in with this shot [Patrick Barron]

Don Brown mentioned Noah Furbush as Michigan's other option at SAM linebacker:

Peppers finished last season with 45 tackles and 10 pass break ups. But this year, along with Noah Furbush, Peppers will be focusing more on playing SAM linebacker says Brown.

“Between Furbush and (Peppers), I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability out of that position. That’s what you are searching for,” said Brown.

Furbush is obviously a very different player than Peppers, and that might give you an indication of what Michigan is going to do when they do catch an Iowa or a Wisconsin. If Furbush fills out this year—his weight has been an ongoing mystery—he brings a lot more in the tight-end-whacking category than Peppers; meanwhile Michigan can move Peppers to CB or safety… or save some snaps in an effort to use him more on offense.

Also in "other SAM," Chase Winovich was recruited as Jake Ryan 2.0 and now sounds kind of like Jake Ryan 2.0:

He is all of 240 pounds and can still move as well as he did when he was 215.  …  If things go according to what looks to be the plan, expect to see Winovich playing standing up at times, and with his hand in the dirt at others.  His non-stop motor and reckless abandon should help him when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks.

I'm not sure where Jake Ryan 2.0 fits in a Don Brown defense but am willing to find out.

Quarterback

While nobody is tipping their hand I continue to believe that Zach Gentry moving to tight end is a dead giveaway that John O'Korn is the guy and authoritatively so. Baumgardner:

When forced to throw the ball in traffic, O'Korn's accuracy was just more consistent. It wasn't perfect, but his touch was better and his ability to deliver throws on time looked superior to what we saw from Wilton Speight or Shane Morris.

That's probably not a shocker to anyone. But it was notable. The deep ball will be a work in progress for O'Korn and his wideouts, and it's still important to note that Jehu Chesson is still rehabbing an injury. But Jake Butt still catches everything underneath, and Amara Darboh can still haul in most anything thrown in his area. O'Korn is figuring that out.

Webb noted that O'Korn is "unquestionably the most athletic" of the QBs, which is a nice physical intangible to have at 6'4". Speight and Malzone come in for mentions as well; Morris was probably at the other split squad practice so don't run to the hills with the news that he gone.

The hyped recruit has impressed as well. Brandon Peters was singled out by Harbaugh in a press conference after day two. Baumgardner made an effort to check him out during the brief time the media got to see him—he's been practicing mostly during the closed bit of Michigan's practices:

The main thing here: He's smooth and natural. When I spoke with a few scouts and analysts about Peters last summer, the first thing they all raved about was how he's nowhere near his potential. …

I've seen a lot of freshmen quarterbacks enter a program over the years and just look absolutely lost or panicked. Their feet are all over the place. They're throwing the thing as hard as they can on every rep. They're overwhelmed, basically.

Peters is far from a finished product, but he's not overwhelmed. That much is clear.

Here's hoping for two years of this kind of chatter before an epic showdown between Peters, McCaffrey, and whoever else survives the winnowing.

Recommend you hit up that Baumgardner article as he describes Harbaugh going through drills with the QBs; some excellent insight into what makes Harbaugh one of the best QB coaches in football.

Tight End

Bunting has been impressing:

Ian Bunting didn’t have as good a day as Jake Butt, but he was close.  The redshirt sophomore has terrific hands and showed trait on the play of the day. Bunting ran a skinny post. Coverage was decent, giving Alex Malzone a tight window to throw in.  He fired a rope a little out front of his intended target where only Bunting had a shot.  The ball was on him so quick that he only had time to extend one hand, but that was all he need to haul in the pass.  He did so in stride and sprinted to the endzone to a series of oohs and aahs.  It was his best play but definitely not the only one.

Also in there are takes on Wheatley (looking promising in the AJ Williams role, probably still needs to drop a little weight) and Gentry (upside, but needs time). Webb revisited Bunting after practice yesterday, asserting that he "looks like a guy poised to have a breakout season" because he is now blasting through linebackers on his routes and boxing them out. Here's to Ol' Skillet Hands making good on ridiculous MGoBlog hype.

Jake Butt is Jake Butt: he should win the dang Mackey this year.

Ty Wheatley hopes to be senior AJ Williams plus some athleticism:

"He's a big-bodied guy who can move people off the ball and when he goes out to run a pattern, he can work a guy," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Thursday. "Those short routes by the tight ends are kind of like (playing underneath) in basketball. He's a big target, put the ball (wherever) and he can run with it."

Michigan has an obvious hole to fill at inline tight end with Williams's departure and Hill's move to fullback. Wheatley is unusually well suited to fill that hole despite being a redshirt freshman. Meanwhile, Michigan "never seriously considered moving him" over the offseason despite rumors to that effect.

Zach Gentry "needs to add weight… a lot of it" per Webb; I think everyone's expectation is that he'll have to spend a year getting used to the position before issuing a serious challenge for playing time.

Wide Receivers

With Chesson sidelined, there is Amara Darboh and then there is everyone else.

There's been some chatter about Ahmir Mitchell's physical physicalness, and one creepy super slow mo video:

It's a creepy super slow mo video in which he loses a slant route to Reon Dawson, so maybe he won't break through immediately. Baumgardner says he's "pretty raw" and that was indeed his reputation as a recruit. He's likely to sit on the shelf a bit as he matures.

Cornerback

I kind of expected Channing Stribling to fade a bit as Jeremy Clark continued familiarizing himself with corner, but Webb's talked him up a few times:

Webb elaborated a bit later:

He has made some really acrobatic plays. At the same time he has given up a few plays. Darboh has been particularly troublesome due to his superior strength and great route technique.  Stribling also gave up the aforementioned deep ball to Harris, but again, he made many more plays than he gave up during the time the media was at practice.

Jourdan Lewis remains good at football:

Jourdan Lewis was his vintage self.  I noticed one ball caught on him (a comeback route by Amara Darboh. He seemed to bait John O’Korn into a bad throw on one occasion. After taking away his man on a short route he began drifting back into the secondary and picked off O’Korn’s attempt to complete an out cut (sounded like Jedd Fisch said he should’ve thrown it sooner).

Not much more than the occasional mention of Clark and others. Still expect Clark to contribute extensively.

Injuries

Ryan Glasgow and Jehu Chesson are still working out on the sidelines, as injuries are slowing them down. Neither is much of a surprise, but one name amongst the guys who aren't full go does worry: Wyatt Shallman was once again on the side after being full-go in the first practice. Guy cannot get healthy.

In happier news, both Bryan Mone and Mike McCray have been full-go. McCray's status is of particular note since last year he made some ominous noises about his long-term future. Also he is a linebacker, and Michigan needs some of those. Here is a positive noise about McCray that we will all dearly wish is true despite the fact they aren't in pads yet:

“He looks really good out here,” said Lewis.  “He is probably one of the guys we look up to as the guy that should step up this year at that linebacker position. I’m excited for Mike. He has great upside.”

Getting a healthy McCray back is huge for Michigan.

OL Depth

Nick Baumgardner with the depth chart nerd assist:

That is more or less as expected without Blake Bars. Those guys are in fact the only other scholarship OL on the roster until this year's class arrives in fall.

Baumgardner also caught the fact that in the second half of practice, after the third and fourth stringers left, the only OL to remain other than the starters was Kugler. Given Cole's versatility I would expect Kugler to be the guy who enters on any injury, and if there's going to be a shakeup to the expected starting five it would be Kugler pushing through at C such that Cole displaces a returning starter.

Miscellaneous

It'll be a 4-3 defense that's fairly similar to what Michigan did a year ago.

in 2015 U-M ran a 4-3 defense that played a ton of man coverage on the outside.

That’s still the plan in 2016, however, with a little twist says Brown.

“We’ll start with the four down (lineman) scheme, but we are not exclusively that,” Brown said. “We’ll do it all. We’ll play a lot of man (coverage) tight. But we will also play some other things. That’s the new piece. And that’s the learning piece.”

There will be more linebacker blitzing. Probably a lot more—Durkin had a five-man pressure he liked to run a lot but instances of true maniacal blitzing were very rare.

Harbaugh also elaborated on the split squad stuff:

“That was new,” Harbaugh said. “More one on one coaching for reps for each guy. The rule is no player can practice more than four hours, which every player practiced for four hours and had a nice little overlap there. Coaches had a six-hour day, but it just flew by. Just felt like it flew by. Logic is pretty simple there to understand. More coaching and more football for everybody.”

Indeed it is but it's also another example of Harbaugh figuring out ways to get maximum efficiency from the allotted rules.

And we have a first name for Pratt Just Pratt:

Another player that has been working out on the side is 6-5, 268 lb. sophomore offensive lineman Logan Pratt. This is noteworthy only because Pratt is one of the most impressive looking walk-ons I’ve ever seen.

Pratt will remain Just Pratt, I think.

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This Week's Obsession: Reading Way Too Much Into Spring

This Week's Obsession: Reading Way Too Much Into Spring Comment Count

Seth March 2nd, 2016 at 2:38 PM

by Smoothitron

The Question:

X spring tidbit so far that has you unreasonably excited about Y?

Brian: Well obviously I'm going to go with ​Ian Bunting​ making waves as an enormous skillet-handed dude. This is true to the spirit of this question because all we have is one tweet. But I like the tweet.

Rivals recently had some team tidbits that oddly and explicitly trashed Bunting's ability. If that's accurate that makes me almost as much of a sad panda as Michigan ditching the spread punt, but it's unclear what that is even based on given the timing. Last year's offseason chatter—Morris is a real contender, watch out for Lawrence Marshall, this time Joe Bolden has put it together—had very little relationship with reality, so I'm hoping that gets put in the Big Bin Of Some Anonymous Guy Is Wrong.

I'm not even expecting Bunting to have a huge impact this year since he's a flex guy and one Jake Butt is still around, but I am hoping that we see him emerge into a clear heir apparent in preparation for a two-year run as an upperclassman. There isn't a tight end on the roster with quite the receiving upside of Bunting. I mean, maybe Gentry. But you know me and Ol' Skillet Hands.

[After the JUMP: more tweets that we treat as confirmation bias of good things]

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