One Pile Of Spring Practice Stuff

Submitted by Brian on 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


[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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Ali G Bomaye

March 4th, 2016 at 1:28 PM ^

It looks to me like it's a simulation of a run play.

The linebackers step forward and "engage" offensive linemen to fill their assigned gaps.  Then when they see where the play is going, they're practicing disengaging to attack the runner.  It's hard for a LB to disengage if an offensive lineman gets his hands on the LB, so discarding the bags makes the players practice using their hands to knock down the OL's hands as they disengage.

Space Coyote

March 4th, 2016 at 1:58 PM ^

You use the bags because it simulates the position of your hands, both in terms of width and in terms of orientation, to punch the outside of the breast plate. Once the play can be diagnosed, you violently "shuck" the blocker, or rip down and away from the play (this gets the blocker off balance and give you a clean run to the ball) similar to throwing the bag to the ground.

This is a repetition of movement drill, not a 100% live drill. It's designed to get guys used to the repetitive movement of taking on a blocker and disengaging (notice the feet keep moving as well). 


March 4th, 2016 at 1:30 PM ^

For what it's worth, Rick Neuheisel said he used to run overlapping split squads during the opening week of fall practices to help aclimate incoming freshmen quicker.


March 4th, 2016 at 1:36 PM ^

Not having deep safeties and having them play one-on-one scares me.  I would rather give up a little more on the run game than increase the odds of getting beat deep.

I think of it this way:  This defense is going to be awesome.  Given that, I would rather force the offense to consistently make plays down the field against us (unlikely) than give them deep pass opportunities. I'm not a fan of full-out "bend but don't break", but with this D I do want to force offenses to beat us consistently and have us cover the big play potential a bit more than this scheme implies.


March 4th, 2016 at 1:43 PM ^

Except for the OSU game last year it felt so good to have such a solid yards-per-play defense while still having 2 guys deep to cover up for any mistakes or oportunities bourne of overagressiveness up front.  

I've changed my mind.  I think involving the safeties in the run/short pass game will further shorten the amount of room/time for the opposing offense to the point where the turnovers we force fastly outweigh any big chunks we give up.  

We shall see.

turd ferguson

March 4th, 2016 at 2:26 PM ^

It's an interesting question.  I think a lot of it depends on the defenses we play and whether they can reliably exploit mistakes by our safeties.  The starting QBs on our Big Ten schedule probably look something like this:

  • Trace McSorley (Penn State)
  • Bart Houston (Wisconsin)
  • Chris Laviano (Rutgers)
  • Wes Lunt (Illinois)
  • Tyler O'Connor (MSU)
  • Perry Hills (Maryland)
  • CJ Beathard (Iowa)
  • Richard Lagow (Indiana)
  • JT Barrett (OSU)

There are some good QBs on that list, and hopefully we'll face more of them after the OSU game, but on paper they aren't exactly terrifying.  And those teams lose most of their top WRs.  The top returning WR is probably Chris Godwin.  After him... Simmie Cobbs?  Whoever is next in line at OSU?

turd ferguson

March 4th, 2016 at 4:39 PM ^

Yeah, that was my point, and my language was accidentally generous.  As a group, these guys suck.  I'll believe that an MSU quarterback sucks when I see it, but there isn't much there to fear, especially when you look at the returning WRs.  And for the scariest guy on that list (Barrett), I'm good with having another guy near the line.


March 5th, 2016 at 9:11 PM ^

This is a pretty good conversation... 


I'd say I'd rather have the one deep with our DB's playing up taking away short yardage forcing pass over the top. 

My biggest reason is I think that is better for Lewis but really the best fit for Clark more than anybody. It is the type of concept the Seahawks run... They want their LB's to be faster sideline to sideline facing the run and covering the flats and hook routes. Sherman tries to force teams to throw the ball in tight windows because of his size and ball skills. Earl Thomas is the best at covering deep and being able to shutdown a tight window. 

The guy that makes it work however is Chancelor, that guy for us last year was Peppers... He as good as an safety in coverage and as good as any LB in the run game. 

To your point about the QB's you face I agree... More so I agree on the fact that we won't see a WR that can really attack tight coverage with no over the top help until we play OSU. 

Sidenote: that part of what sucks about not having Notre Dame on the scheduel anymore... Really miss having a team that could test us early in the season. 

For all the guys you listed I say drop everyone in the box, take away everything easy and hope that a secondary full of seniors doesn't blow coverage. 

Mr Miggle

March 4th, 2016 at 6:53 PM ^

is that it can be exploited repeatedly. See Indiana and Jordan Howard. I'm not worried about that happening this year. I have confidence in Brown's ability to adjust and vary his defense. I am still worried about our safeties in coverage rhough, regardless of the scheme. Hopefully no one they cover one on one will have much time to get open.


March 4th, 2016 at 1:43 PM ^

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