Rome Wrap: Feelingsball, Offense Comment Count

Brian May 1st, 2017 at 1:34 PM

One of the nice things about Michigan dragging reporters a long distance is that Harbaugh has pity on them and opens practice. Last year the IMG trip saw three or four practices open to the public, and the just-concluded Rome trip finished with three as well. The first day in Rome was just shells and a walk-through since the team had downshifted from full-on padded practices after the spring game, but there's a fair amount of useful intel coming out of the latter two.

Feelingsball section

It would be hard for a trip to Rome to not look pretty cool for the croots; Michigan really hammered it home with all-access media coverage and an itinerary that ranged from seeing the sites to drinking out of public fountains... paintball (in khakis, naturally)... hanging with the Pope...

-cfe2dc7d77b923ed coach-versus-coach gladiatorial contests:

It looked better than any vacation I've ever taken by an order of magnitude.

All of this was documented by Michigan's own social media team and a legion of reporters, with an embedded ESPN guy.

Quite a turnaround in public relations skills from the last regime, and all of it pushed by a guy who is also the football coach.

This no doubt had various SEC coaches seething in rage and there will be a proposal to ban or limit such things as soon as possible. Michigan chose wisely by going to the center of Western Civilization(tm) and meeting the freakin' Pope, but no educational argument is going to withstand the white-hot fury of a bunch of dudes who can't imagine why you'd ever go anywhere but Waffle House.

That would be sad, since this seemed like a life-enhancing experience in a way a week in central Florida is not.

Most of the players had never been overseas.

Senior fullback Khalid Hill, a Detroit native who attended East English Village, said his biggest takeaway from the trip was the learning experience.

“Coming over here, learning different things, seeing different things, it’s amazing,” Hill said. “It’s something you don’t usually get a chance to do. I can go back home and say, ‘Man, I’m a kid from Detroit that got a chance to come over here and play and practice.’

“Not too many kids from Detroit can say that, even kids from Michigan. To do that is amazing. I love the experience of my last spring ball.”

We'll see what happens, but when the NCAA's official site is promoting your trip...

ncaa might have a shot. This is supposedly part of the NCAA's core mission.

Harbaugh’s motivation for the trip was to, as he has said on multiple occasions, put the student back in student-athlete. He has seen college football become a 12-month a year sport, and wanted the players to have some breathing room in May.

Many of the players are venturing off on backpacking trips for a few days before returning home, while others are leaving for three-week study-abroad programs.

Michigan plans to go to South Africa next year; let's hope they get to go.

Football section

Not enough data to go position by position but some additional practice buzz from folks who were in Rome mixed in with some standard insidery takes follow. There wasn't much on either line because of the nature of the practices, in which a lot of 7-on-7 was played while the linemen did drills.  7-on-7 is a lot more immediately comprehensible than line drills and thus understandably drew the bulk of attention from observers.

Nick Baumgardner's headliner was WR Tarik Black, who showed he can run a lot more than fade routes:

He caught a crossing route over the middle that was thrown high and behind him, with a defender on his hip, where it was simply all hands. The ball looked like a sure incompletion -- and in a live setting, maybe worse. But he was able to time his leap right, reach back and just glide through the catch. He has a unique ability to make difficult receptions look relatively easy.

For a first-year receiver, this seems rare. I've seen so many freshman receivers get into a camp -- whether it be in the spring or the fall -- and just look lost with their fundamentals. Black is not one of those guys.

Baumgardner threw in another Black mention in a subsequent article to emphasize his take, and Black also led Sam Webb's practice take roundup. Good news with a "right, still a freshman" twist:

Tarik Black looked impressive once again. At this point the coaches are really working him hard on route precision. Rounding off routes... standing up at the top of routes... things that he will improve upon in time. He's trying to learn the playbook while working on those things, so it's going to take some time. But he's too good right now to not see the field. He'll play. A lot.

Players ranked in Black's range are even less likely to be year one contributors than five-stars that hit at only a 33% rate (in year one), but enrolling early and impressing are big steps. One insider report has Black, not Donovan Peoples-Jones, starting next to Crawford if the season started today. It does not, and DPJ was limited for much of the spring with a series of minor injuries so he is a candidate to surge back into the lead. Black's prominence is worse news for Drake Harris and Moe Ways, neither of whom generated any spring buzz.

Quarterback is in a bit of a weird spot where... well, here's Sam describing the situation in an extensive board Q&A:

If you're asking me if what I've seen is further confirmation that Brandon is the most talented quarterback on the roster, my answer would be yes. No one is disputing that.  I don't think the quarterbacks themselves would dispute that.

Despite that everyone has Wilton Speight the clear leader for the job, as rising juniors who finished in a dead heat for second in the Big Ten in passer rating tend to be. A couple of turnovers he coughed up while playing with a busted collarbone and a big-time spring game from Brandon Peters have everyone and their mother clamoring for the backup. The many upward pointing arrows on various parts of Peters's profile don't mean he's a favorite, or even particularly likely, to wrest the job away this fall. If Speight struggles or get hurt, I don't expect last year's Indiana game.

As far as the projected starter goes, he was locked in on Friday for the second practice:

On Friday, though, he was dealing.

Once Michigan cranked up the intensity of practice and got a little bit more live, Speight seemed to settle right into a groove and made some really, really impressive throws.

He hit a 25-yard corner route to a receiver in stride -- inside an air-tight window -- on an absolutely beautiful throw.

Pep Hamilton thought so, too.

"That's what we gotta do," Hamilton belted, pumping his fist into the air and slapping Speight on the back after the throw.

From there, he was on the money the rest of the day.

This is both a reminder that the spring game is a weak indicator and a throwback to last year, when Speight had spurts where he looked like the best QB in the country... and spurts where he looked like Michigan's biggest problem. I may be thinking of several deep balls that landed about four yards too long one night in Iowa City.

My operative theory last year was that the Harbaugh-ized version of Speight is a very, very good QB but he reverted to previous bad habits too often. If that is the case and the guy who is spooky accurate goes from 40 of snaps to 70% this year Michigan will have a hell of a passing game. Don't write off Speight yet.

Finally in passing game notes: Ian Bunting is still the expected starter as an inline TE, with Tyrone Wheatley's blocking still inconsistent.

Interestingly, Zach Gentry was mentioned as the starting FLEX, which is probably good news. Nick Eubanks has looked impressive this spring, so Gentry potentially forcing his way onto the field says good things about his ability to deliver matchup problems to opposing defenses.  He's not far off Mike Gesicki, the Penn State tight end. Gesicki is the only football player in history worse at TE blocking than Devin Funchess, but 48 catches for 679 is outstanding receiving output.

Offensive line is status quo: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with JBB held out of contact in Rome. Per Baumgardner, Bredeson did take some tackle snaps but his impression was that Michigan was relatively set with that line, give or take a freshman at right tackle. Per Webb there's good news and bad news here, with Cole "going toe to toe with Rashan Gary" and Ben Bredeson improving a great deal. On the downside, Mike Onwenu's weight is still an issue and Michigan is insisting he get down to 360.

I have a dollar on Andrew Stueber as the opening day RT, FWIW.



May 1st, 2017 at 1:44 PM ^

Would the SEC really fight to ban this? It seems like their annoyance lies moreso in the "poaching" of recruits (who are apparently property belonging to southern schools).

Plus I thought UMbig11 had mentioned this would become a department wide thing where other student athletes would have similar opportunities (?)


May 1st, 2017 at 4:38 PM ^

I'm not sure how a "policy" change would enable other student athletes to do something like this when it seemed like this was made possible only because a donor specifically donated to make this happen specifically for football.  Maybe said donor is expanding on that?


May 1st, 2017 at 1:47 PM ^

This fall will feature some hotly contested competition for the starting RT and many of the two spots like QB, WR, DT, NT, CB, WDE, S, and possibly Will.

Yinka Double Dare

May 1st, 2017 at 1:47 PM ^

 I'm not sure the ACC/SEC grumblechumps will be as mad about this. Because this time it isn't in "their" recruiting area. And it isn't using a university break. How exactly can they spin this one without it being a very blatant "well, that's not fair that they're spending money on this for their players while we choose not to" sort of complaint?


May 1st, 2017 at 2:49 PM ^

I think Harbaugh has gotten the Southeast's jimmies so rustled that it wouldn't surprise me if they opposed this just to spite him and to prevent the slight recruiting bump that this will give Michigan. All it takes is a vote, right? It's not like they have to move their lazy bums much to shut us down


May 1st, 2017 at 4:43 PM ^

I can see them arguing that it should be included as an "impermissable" benefit.  Since it's not an educational opportunity afforded to the entire student body, they may have an argument.

Why they would want to make an argument could only be for terribly selfish, competitive reasons that ends up hurting the kids.  But pretty much every NCAA policy seems to have that exact effect, so *shrug*


May 2nd, 2017 at 9:10 AM ^

When I had the pleasue and honor of meetng Coach Harbaugh, I said to my son, "that's the colest person I've ever met and there simply is no way I'l even meet everyone cooler." Then I saw Don Brown, handling his problem with the type of aggressi only he could control to win the match, I really want to meet him, but I am sure you can all understand y dilema by now. If he' s cooler, and he's the only man alive that possibly  is, do I pull a military - RHIP? 




The youg men love him don't they.?  i knew what was goiing throuh, Harbaugh's mind, "I know I can take him."


May 1st, 2017 at 1:54 PM ^

The competitions in the summer and fall camp are going to breed some damn good football players. This team will be very special moving forward. Raback it!


May 1st, 2017 at 1:55 PM ^

As a (lower?) middle class kid from Michigan, my first plane trip was when I was 23.  My first time outside US/Canada/Mexico I was 35 on a work trip to Asia.  Second time outside US was my honeymoon to Italy.   The opportunities football affords kids are amazing.  The learning opportunity of Harbaugh doing trips like this is even bigger.  it opens up the world.

Monocle Smile

May 1st, 2017 at 1:59 PM ^

For the first time in what seems like since I started following Michigan (to be fair, only about a decade), spring buzz seems generally like good news about the buzz-ee, not bad news about other players. We're going to be young, but I wager we're going to see some explosive performances and serious seasoning as fall progresses.


May 1st, 2017 at 2:02 PM ^

You do learn a lot from travelling in general... i can imagine that the way the team approached it with advance teams going in early and arranging things made it even more efficient and effective...

As far as I've heard, this trip was funded wholly from an anonymous donor, so its not even a case of the AD paying for this trip... i mean obviously any UofM employee is paid via their salary... but any school can do this...

not sure how the other sports will do it though? will another anonymous donor step up for any of the other sports or would the AD have to foot the bill in those cases?

I could see the NCAA restricting this to once every 2 or 4 years however, which actually could be fine too, as a trip every year might start to feel 'too routine" to some degree...


May 1st, 2017 at 2:06 PM ^

My operative theory last year was that the Harbaugh-ized version of Speight is a very, very good QB but he reverted to previous bad habits too often.

If he can make reasonable gains in consistency, he's not going to get beat out unless Peters is Heisman good.


May 1st, 2017 at 2:12 PM ^

Going to be interesting to see who the starter is as RT. Baumgardner thinks it's Runyan, Brian thinks Stueber, and Webb thinks it will be Filiaga. Having Devry Hamilton or LTT would have been nice right now.


May 1st, 2017 at 2:40 PM ^

solid updates as usual.

obviously everyone wants the best players out there but itd be great to see ulizio, jbb, runyan, or spanellis earn that spot or at least several from that group make the top 7-8 OL - tons of young talent on roster but could really use contributions from as many 2014-2015 recruits as possible.

some nice players in those classes but this team looks much different with guys like runyan, ulizio, washington, gentry, marshall, etc making a real impact.  was psyched to hear washington is more comfortable and playing faster and the same would go for any of those dudes.  regardless, should be exciting!


May 1st, 2017 at 2:17 PM ^

of Steuber as the RT. He's not a combine freak, he's not someone that stands out from other linemen. He's not huge (in the tackle sense. What he is though, is mean, and technique oriented. I was watching some of his film a couple months ago and came away VERY impressed. He has very steady feet and you can tell he has an unrelenting desire to deposit his man into the dirt. I think he's someone that needs help early on in the passing game, but he's going to be a reliable run blocker, and someone that can develop. He's a back alley guy AKA he's the guy you want in a fight in the alley of the bar. 


On the negative side of things, he does need to add a little weight, and his pass blocking is pretty raw. It's apparent that he's the best player on the field and wins most pass blocking assignments with pure strength, and not technique. I think everything is fixable though. There's nothing I saw that's different from any other OL from a smaller state/conference/area.


May 1st, 2017 at 3:18 PM ^

wow...not surprising but still many have been saying, the dude carries that weight pretty well.

onwenu will be fun to follow.  and if he gets below 350, look out


May 2nd, 2017 at 8:13 AM ^

He'll have to get down below 350 - or I don't think he can play at a high level.


You know how many guards are on NFL roster who have a listed weight more than 320lbs and 6'3 or less?




Chance Womack is 6'2", 323 lbs.

Gabe Jackson is 6'3", 335 lbs.


There isn't a single OG in the NFL over 340 lbs....and only 3 at 340lbs... and 2/3 of them are 6'5" or taller.


May 1st, 2017 at 2:23 PM ^

The QBs keep pushing each other. With that position I think it will really be the winner of a competition and whoever Harbaugh picks to start against UF will be the best QB on the roster. I am worried that might not be the case with RT. That position might just be the "least bad" player at the spot but I hope I am wrong.