Practice Bits: Offense Comment Count

Brian March 11th, 2015 at 2:20 PM

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[Eric Upchurch]

The Harbaugh era seems considerably less paranoid than the previous regime. Practice reports are coming in from a lot more sources than they used to; no doubt this is partially because excitement sees a lot more people on the sideline. I do hear that they're less concerned about "X looks good, tempo is fast" reports getting out.

Tempo is fast, by the way. Harbaugh has brought a high-rep style to practices in an effort to get everything he can out of every countable hour. It is not exactly Oregon hyper-speed where all coaching is done after, in film. It's a lot closer to that than the Hoke-era practices were. A recruit's parent took in a practice and posted about it to a Facebook group, and his impressions match some others I've been sent:

1. Tempo of practice and the philosophy. Very different from last year. 2 sets of scrimmages per field. A play is being ran an avg of 25 to 35 secs. If they went two groups, they would alternate but each group ran a play every 25secs. So ... Coaches saw 2 plays every 30 secs. Ton of reps. Very different from last year. Coaches are coaching very quick between plays. Emphasis on getting the reps in during practice and correcting mistakes in film. Practice was very similar to how Saban runs his practices.

2. There really is competition at EVERYTHING. I saw several of these "competitions." A couple examples ... QBs did a "fastest release/ball speed" comp. On command, they had to throw a bullet pass 20yds. Malzone looked good. Several races took place today as well but most know about those.

Those were vintage 1990s; these are a lot closer to modern speeds. Michigan is running multiple reps at a time on opposite ends of the field with first and second teams. 

(Aside: I can't help but draw a line between Hoke's deliberate practice pace and his program's inability to operate at any other speed.)

Practices have also been extremely long. How one practice can be longer than another when NCAA maximums are mandated for everyone is unclear; possible that Hoke was spending some of his countable hours in other ways? That seems highly improbable, but so do Michigan's results the past couple years.

Harbaugh bein' Harbaugh

From Sam Webb:

When practice was over Harbaugh brought the team around him and awarded the day to the defense.  As a reward he told them they had to run while the offense watched because “here, the winners are the ones that earn the opportunity to get better.”

Quarterback Battle Royale

Whether it's the WWE kind or the Quentin-Tarantino-porn that is way better than the Hunger Games, what Michigan has on its hands qualifies as such. Jedd Fisch was carefully neutral during his press conference yesterday, as coaches are. He asserted that everyone was even and getting even reps, as coaches do.

But allow your author to read into things some. Fisch on Malzone:

"He's got a lot going on. But he's handled it unbelievably well. He's unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him. To be consistent and play the game. If a play doesn't go right, he's right back in there for the next one. A short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback."

On Speight:

Wilton is a very large man, he's a big guy (at 6-foot-6). He can see everything. He's a pretty good athlete and he throws the ball well. He doesn't seem to have had a ton of experience.

On Morris:

"Shane has a very strong arm, as everybody knows, he spins it well and he just has to understand that, really, that's not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm, then you have a really strong arm. That's what you have. Now, it's a matter of 'what can you do with it?' How do you utilize it? His skill set and his arm strength are tremendous and he's very comfortable. It's fun to watch him in the huddle, he has a really good command of what we're asking him to do."

The tweets that captured small sections of the fuller quotes came off more negative towards Morris, highlighting "unbelievable" for Malzone and "throw it at the person" for Morris. It was more neutral than that. Via Maize and Blue News:

Even so, the overall vibe from that presser seemed to confirm reports floating around at Scout, Rivals, and in my inbox: there's considerable debate about who looks better between Malzone and Speight… and there ends the debate. Scout's observers tend to like Malzone. Rivals's like Speight. Malzone is reportedly adjusting to the size of the players in front of him; Speight doesn't have that issue and is a year ahead of Malzone in terms of college prep.

Early days obviously, but it feels like the QB race is two horses with Morris lagging behind. Gentry and maybe Rudock are yet to enter.

Tailback Battle Royale

See above in re: term. Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of options here and is doing a lot of correcting in drills. Will be interesting to see if there's a performance differential there. The latest practice video from the department features Wheatley heavily if you'd like to hear him talk some.

Most of these guys look like they've looked. Johnson's out; Smith may be a hair faster; it's tough to tell if Green's vision problems are any better in this context. (Most people observing practice do so from the sideline, where holes are not always visible.)

There is the new guy, of course. Ty Isaac is "huge" and "could be a linebacker." He injured a finger somewhat badly in one practice but shrugged it off to continue with drills. This undoubtedly earned him some Harbaugh toughness brownie points. (He did sit out some on subsequent days.)

H-back/TE wazoos

Chase Winovich is at least practicing there…

…and while Harbaugh seemed pretty dismissive about supposed position moves earlier this spring, they are looking at him there. When I fretted that this didn't make a lot of sense given the seeming surplus at H-back, Ace reminded me that Harbaugh switched guys around like mad at Stanford. Doug Baldwin played both ways; Owen Marecic played both ways. Harbaugh loves to experiment, and when he finds a Football Player that guy tends to Play A Lot Of Football. Possibly the same dynamic here.

Because man does Michigan need something above and beyond Butt/Bunting/Hill/Shallman/Houma? And Pallante? And apparently Henry Poggi?


Is it possible Winovich is getting a legit look at tailback? I doubt it but it's not like Michigan's not looking for options there.

It seems clear that Michigan has a relatively set front seven with a lot of depth at three-tech and some at linebacker. So they're taking the opportunity to test out anyone who may be an effective manballer.

FWIW, Ian Bunting looks promising but could still use some more weight on his frame if he's going to be a true dual-threat at the TE spot. When asked to catch the ball he looks "terrific," with the kind of wingspan that will remind you of Funchess "plus a couple inches." Hands are reputed to be excellent. Sam cited him as a potential breakout player.

Sione Houma has been held out with an injury, FWIW.

Receiver Battle… somewhat Royale

Drake Harris exists! He is full go in practice after like two straight years of hamstring doom. Reports alternate between impressive play and extreme skinniness. I believe both; this year will likely be a learning/glaring at hamstring owlishly/getting bigger campaign for him. 247:

There's no doubt about one thing: Harris is going to have to gain some weight in the next six months if he wants to see the field this season. However, the early impressions of him are twofold. One, he's finally 100% healthy and is a full-go at wide receiver. Two, he's been very impressive off the edge and has been a favorite target for a couple of the quarterbacks in early drills.

Harris was kind of a big deal before his leg acted up on him, remember. He was a top-50 prospect who Michigan had to fend off Alabama for after a 2,000 yard junior season.

Other reports are so scattered it's tough to draw conclusions from them. There are a lot of receivers, there are a lot of reps, an observer can easily sink into confirmation bias. At various time's I've heard good things about Ways, Chesson, Norfleet, and Bunting. Darboh's been absent so far and Canteen may still be too small to get off jams; I wouldn't read a whole lot into the former since Darboh is a known quantity.

OL Somewhat Settled(?) Royale

There's significant rotation along the offensive line, as you might expect. Other than the returning starters the biggest threats for playing time are Patrick Kugler, David Dawson, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Miller and Braden are the returning starters under the most threat.

It is impossible to tell anything about these guys yet, as this is the point in the year when they're at the greatest disadvantage. Having eight real options is excellent, at least.

Chris Fox is still injured. You may remember that he came in after suffering a severe knee injury in his senior year of high school, ballooned up into the 350 range, and hasn't been talked about much subsequently. At least early this spring he was still on crutches. We are rapidly approaching the point where a medical scholarship is the most likely outcome.



March 11th, 2015 at 4:33 PM ^

Agree. I think that's the timetable. Most are quick to give any bad DG performances a pass because of poor O line play. Morris played one game behind that O line, proceeded to get the crap beat out of him and has been labeled a "bust" or he "doesn't have what it takes". I don't know if he's good enough to be the starter, I'll trust Coach Harbaugh to make those decisions, but I think the clock is ticking.


March 11th, 2015 at 3:07 PM ^

Because of the coaching negligence of the last regime, I'd say give him a bit more time to prove himself. If he is backup to a freshman this fall, I would say yes, probably a bust. If he is backup to a senior transfer from Iowa, with the chance to start in '16, then it's murkier. 


March 11th, 2015 at 3:11 PM ^

Absolutely spot on.  Morris was in a no-win situation when he started that game last year.  He was playing catch up on so many levels.  I'm anxious to see how he does with a competent staff developing him.  As much as I loved Denard and Devin as representatives of the program and the school, I don't think they were developed much by the previous staff.  They relied on talent, which they had a lot of, but had to overcome so many things to be effective. 


March 11th, 2015 at 3:17 PM ^

I'm honestly already leaning towards bust status. The main thing that's keeping me from closing the door on him is the coaching negligence taking place the last two years.

The thing is if Rudock comes and likely wins the job, Shane has one more year to beat out Speight,Malzone,O'Korn, and whatever 2016 qb is on the roster. Doesn't look to promising.

As crazy as it might sound, redshirting might not be a horrible option if he really wants to make it to the next level.

I Like Burgers

March 11th, 2015 at 4:10 PM ^

Don't forget about Gentry.  He'll be in the mix this year and next.

And redshirting won't help him get to the next level.  If anything, it would put that dream further out of reach. For Shane to make it to the next level, he needs to win the job this year and hold on to it for his final two seasons of eligibility.  It would be really unrealistic to expect him to be bad enough this season to warrant a redshirt and then be good enough next season to beat out all 5-6 QBs or whatever we have on the roster and take the starters job.

Lou MacAdoo

March 11th, 2015 at 4:02 PM ^

I think he was highly overrated just based on his arm cannon and measurables. His stats in high school never seemed to show anything that would warrant the ranking he received. There's much more to the QB position than having a cannon. You'd think these kids would understand this from watching the greats in the NFL. He's probably had his ego stroked by many scouts and past teammates which led him to have a certain pride in throwing it the hardest. This pride of always overthrowing the ball probably stunted his development into becoming the well rounded QB he could've become. Maybe the adversity he's faced over the last year will humble him a bit and with the help of Harbaugh and Fisch he can get back on the proper track to reach his potential.


March 11th, 2015 at 4:14 PM ^

don't see how anyone reads those quotes and thinks that Speight is ahead of Morris?
"Wilton is large, kind of athletic, etc."  sounds barely adequate, and inexperienced.

Saying "It's fun to watch Morris in the huddle, and he's got a really good command of what we're asking him to do".  doesn't sound particularly damning to me?

I think the coaches are VERY impressed with Malzone's potential  . . . but from hearing the interview I'd rank them:

1a. Malzone
1b. Morris
3. Speight

Don't really care, because I'm pretty confident the coaches will find the best option before the first game this fall.

I Like Burgers

March 11th, 2015 at 4:22 PM ^

To me, the quotes sound like everyone is even.  They all have a trait or two that the others don't (size, short-term memory, arm strength), but none of them have put it together enough to be ahead of any of the other QBs on the roster.


March 11th, 2015 at 4:59 PM ^

The coaches may indeed find the "best option" - but unfortunately that doesn't mean our best option is real good... y'know?!

Quick, I'll spot you 2 Wolverines (Leach, Henne) - now name a decent number of other true frosh starting QBs that did much winning. .. seems pretty rare.


March 11th, 2015 at 5:09 PM ^

That's my take.  Seems like it is Mazlone and Morris battling it out; I think the Speight comments read more as "He's a big guy.  I mean, look at him" and not some overly-positive review of his capability as a QB.  Doesn't mean he isn't in the competition, but he (sadly) doesn't sound like he's shedding the Borges QB stench.

Provided Rudock doesn't transfer, I expect Morris to get the starting nod in the season opener but for the leash to be short/a fair bit of in-game switches to get him and Malzone reps and see how each responds.  


March 12th, 2015 at 4:04 AM ^

Marcus Ray said Wilton was catching everyone's eye and that he throws a nice, accurate ball and makes all the throws. Jedd stated that Wilton is big, athletic, and makes all the throws. Have you not seen his highlight tape from HS? They are as good or better than both Malzone and Morris. I think Wilton is 1, followed by Malzone, then Morris.

Thankfully we should all know soon. All three have something that suits what Harbaugh likes, it's the one who puts it all together that will win the job.


March 11th, 2015 at 5:02 PM ^

Give the terrible coaching he seemed to get the first couple of years, coupled with the health situation, I'm not sure if he was ever going to be "good" at Michigan.  He seems like a collection of great QB parts assembled in a suboptimal way.  A good coach would probably be able to sand down the rought patches and make him pretty good; it's pretty clear Borges couldn't do it, and Nussmeier had so many issues to deal with I don't think he had the time.

I wouldn't call him a bust because that is incredibly harsh on a young kid; not likely to live up to expectations, though, is a possibility.


March 11th, 2015 at 2:37 PM ^

How much did Steve Breaston weigh his freshman year? I remember him being a bean pole. Why would Harris need to gain too much weight to see the field if his speed/playmaking is better than others?


March 11th, 2015 at 2:45 PM ^

Agree on Drake Harris. If he can get open, run routes and most importantly catch the ball thats all that matters. Who cares how much he weighs? The Michigan O is starving for a guy that gets separation comparable to guys of past...Manningham, Breaston, Braylon etc. 


March 12th, 2015 at 9:05 AM ^

Yes, you need to get off of jams, but there are other ways besides overpowering cornerbacks. I think this is kind of a silly argument. There are lots of skinny wide receivers, and there are lots of thick wide receivers. Quick/fast receivers can sometimes beat jams because of their quickness, and sometimes they get outmuscled. Thick/slow possession receivers can sometimes beat jams because of their strength, and sometimes the defender can recover because of superior quickness.

What does it all mean?

It means good receivers will be good, and bad receivers will be bad. If Drake Harris is doing well in practice against good corners like Countess, Lewis, Peppers, etc., then he can do well against other Big Ten corners. If he's getting his butt kicked in practice, then he'll get his butt kicked in games.

Regardless, you go into a game knowing that not every single one of your players is going to win every snap. Mason Cole didn't earn the starting job because Hoke/Funk thought he could win 100% of his snaps. They thought Cole was their best option and could win the highest percentage of those snaps out of anyone on the team. If Drake Harris is that guy (or one of those guys) at wide receiver, then he should be on the field.

Do you think Roy Roundtree was going to overpower corners and safeties? Absolutely not. But he still got on the field and had a pretty darn good career. He had his best year under Rich Rodriguez because Rodriguez knew how to use him. If Harbaugh and the rest of the staff know how to use Harris - and if he's good enough - then he should and will see the field.

Yostbound and Down

March 11th, 2015 at 2:51 PM ^

He's a different style of player from Breaston I think.

For one thing Harris is a bit taller, and not quite as fast or agile. He does have ridiculous leaping ability. I think he would be a good deep threat or possession guy because of those attributes, but not a slot type guy. As long as he is tough enough to take hits going over the middle and contribute as a blocker (that last part I'm sure is something Harbaugh likes to see) I'm not worried about his weight. Ten more pounds would be nice.

Yostbound and Down

March 11th, 2015 at 3:25 PM ^

Yeah, but A. I'm not just gonna compare guys on our current team to AC and B. I still think that's not a great comparison. Carter was even smaller than Breaston, but he was very fast and used as a deep threat, also deadly with the ball in the open field. Drake is similar in that he can be more of a downfield threat but he is taller and not as fast.

Like I said, I think possession/deep threat guy, like a Marquis Walker/David Terrell type to me. Carter was so good he could play anywhere, Bo just didn't use the slot back then like they do now. Breaston could have been more of a deep threat than he was probably, he was damn good too. If Drake gets to that level, look out. 


Jack Daniels

March 11th, 2015 at 2:47 PM ^

Sam Webb had a gut feeling that Glasgow or Kugler would be the start at C, FWIW. I have no idea how he can be so sure so early, but maybe something happened/is going to happen to Miller

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March 11th, 2015 at 5:11 PM ^

Webb has a tendency, I think, to get swept up into day-by-day results and, needing to generate content, sometimes jumping being quick to anoint a new hotness.  I figure the C position is heated, but anyone proclaiming it set, or anyone really in the lead, might be dealing with some confirmation bias.


March 11th, 2015 at 2:59 PM ^

Some of the emerging Malzone chatter sounds very much like what we heard last spring about Mason Cole, how he "gets it," isn't rattled," etc etc. May that comparison be true.


March 12th, 2015 at 4:10 AM ^

He has some Drew Bree's in him for sure. I worry about his stature and being a true freshman. Very tough to be a solid QB as a true freshman in a pro style offense. I personally hope Rudock transfers here so everyone can get an extra year of experience.

Todd Plate's n…

March 11th, 2015 at 3:12 PM ^

He seems to be careening towards, if I may use a baseball analogy, being a thrower and never developing into a pitcher.  Like others though, I think under the current staff there is still plenty of time to see him progress and become a good player.