Spring Bits II: Lewan, Cox Rising

Submitted by Brian on April 8th, 2010 at 11:08 AM

Assorted items of possibly dubious validity that have darkened my inbox about spring practice. Are these accurate? Useful? Worth reading? Possibly not. Will at least one player who these reports suggest will be a ninja spend his career doing nothing? Yes. Will you absorb the reports voraciously anyway? Absolutely!

denard-robinson-touchdown Quarterback Fight

I'm on the record as skeptical that Denard Robinson presents a serious threat to Tate Forcier, but multiple sources here and elsewhere keep saying it looks even, or even advantage Robinson, thus far. Robinson's got a zippy arm that bests Forcier when it comes to short-range oomph and has vastly improved his accuracy. This makes him a plausible quarterback. He remains ridiculously fast, and is actually running the read option now.

Areas for improvement: throwing on the run, reading defenses—when the D deviates from its vanilla schemes Robinson has a nasty tendency to throw it directly at defenders—and pocket awareness. On long throws he still has a tendency to throw ropes that give receivers little opportunity to adjust to inaccurate balls.

There has been little chatter about Forcier, with some observers theorizing he's still dealing with the after-effects of his shoulder injury and others claiming he's totally healthy and just not progressing as fast as Robinson. That latter makes some sense, as Forcier has been exposed to high-level coaching for years. He's a lot closer to his ceiling than Robinson.

Despite all the Robinson talk, most people are hesitant to suggest he would actually start. Michigan is installing the 3-3-5 and running vanilla coverages. There's a long way to go from seeming competent in spring to being the starting quarterback. More realistic is a continued timeshare with Robinson moonlighting at other skill positions when Tate is at the helm.

Devin Gardner, meanwhile, looks like a freshman. He needs work on his mechanics, doesn't know the offense that well, and is clearly behind the two sophomores. He's running a lot of those Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Zone Stretch plays that Robinson was relegated to last year. If Denard can establish himself a viable option Gardner seems headed for a redshirt. His long term potential remains totally sweet.

Tailback

091909_UMFB vs EMU_MRM

It sounds like Mike Cox is the tentative leader at this point. He alternates punishing Minor RAGE runs with mental mistakes that undoubtedly have Rodriguez throwing his hat and saying he's dang-diddly-anged disappointed in the young man. Cox has the best combination of size and speed, and that uncanny balance he flashed during some of his garbage-time runs is no fluke. Caveat: Vincent Smith is sometimes suggested as the probable starter. Cox is entering his third year in the program so the mental mistakes may be a long term issue, unfortunately.

Michael Shaw is next in the pecking order, less likely to break a tackle than Cox but more likely to take something a long way. He's also been mentioned as a player who needs to work on the mental side of the game some.

Stephen Hopkins is getting the sort of reviews you expect him to: he is a horse, a load, a freight train, a moose, etc. He will run straight ahead until he falls over or he burrows into the wall in the endzone. If Cox doesn't establish himself as a short yardage back, the duties will likely fall to Hopkins.

Toussaint comes in for cursory "looked good" praise but it seems like he's trailing the relative veterans. White is probably redshirting.

Wideouts and Tight Ends

Hard to tell anything with Hemingway and Stokes out; in their absence Roy Roundtree is practicing outside and drawing mixed reviews. Drops are supposed to be an issue with everyone, but Roundtree gets more stick for it than others.

Mixed reviews on Darryl Stonum, with a couple reports citing his obvious physical superiority to the rest of the WRs and projecting a strong season. Again, hard to tell absent his most serious competition.

Roundtree may stick outside even after the injured return because Odoms, Gallon, and Robinson are all having strong springs. Robinson and Grady are taking a number of snaps in the backfield—think Darius Reynaud—and doing well with it. Both were high school tailbacks. Robinson and Gallon seem to have the inside track on punt returns.

Tight ends are the same as they were last year. It sounds like they're focusing more on the slots this year.

taylor-lewan-michiganOffensive Line

The interior line remains as expected: Schilling, Molk Placeholder, Omameh, with both guards coming in for regular praise and the Placeholder (Khoury, mostly) having issues snapping the ball. That's supposedly getting better.

On the outside there's been some shuffling with Dorrestein and Huyge flopping left to right at times. This may be due to Taylor Lewan's (right) quick emergence. He's been called an "obvious future star" and  "reminiscent of Jake Long."  Reports are still conflicting on his readiness but all agree that his upside is as rapturous as the recruiting gurus promised; it seems like it's matter of time before he claims the left tackle spot. That timeframe may be September or it may be next year. The most recent move suggests the move may come sooner rather than later. Flipping Huyge to the right seems to be an effort to get Michigan's best five on the field. If I had to bet, I'd go with Lewan as the starting LT against UConn.

Washington (when healthy) and Schofield have also gotten good reviews; that whole class seems to be panning out so far. Huyge and Dorrestein haven't been the subject of much chatter good or bad. With the quarterbacks focusing on shorter routes the opportunities for serious pass protection have been intermittent.

Defensive Line

Renaldo Sagesse continues to play well. Will Campbell is huge and still working on technique issues but much better both physically and mentally; it sounds like those two will be the NT platoon. I'm pretty confident they'll be a good one. That leaves Van Bergen and Martin outside with Banks and Patterson backing up. It's hard to tell how much of the praise for each of the senior backups is real, but given how Sagesse played last year I think he can hang. Patterson and Banks I don't know about.

Specific mentions of RVB have been few and far between. Banks and Patterson are getting talked up publicly but aren't drawing a ton of hype on background.

Linebackers

This comes with a "just spring" warning since he was buried all of last year, but Kenny Demens is getting a significant amount of buzz and is taking some of Ezeh's snaps with the first team. The scheme change may suit him: the Casteel-style 3-3-5 doesn't need a huge MLB, just a tough guy willing to plug his face on a guard and make the nose tackle right all the time. His speed and blitzing is a good fit for the new system. He's been laying his share of thumping hits.

Other than that, it's MOTS in the linebacking corps, with Mouton and Ezeh seeming like Mouton and Ezeh. If there have been any adjustment pains for Craig Roh they haven't made it into the wide world. He seems to be doing very well. Adding 20 pounds turns him from overmatched but promising into beast, apparently. From the inbox's lips to God's ears.

Defensive Backs

The Cam Gordon hype train continues unabated, with words like "excellent," "natural," and "seems vaguely like an actual safety" getting thrown around. (Latter praise invented by me to tamp own expectations down.) ESPN's Adam Rittenberg gets in on the act:

Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, drew praise from Rodriguez and several players I spoke with.

Most positive reports about receivers read "hauled in pass and was disemboweled by Gordon, but held on." Caveat: all the quarterback reports indicate that Michigan is working on short stuff incessantly, so opportunities to get dragged way out of position and give up, oh, I don't know, a third and thirty-seven conversion have been limited.

With Emilien out with another injury, Brandin Hawthorne is second-team at deep safety. Rodriguez has been wary about the lack of depth there.

Troy Woolfolk is about on par where he was last year: pretty good Big Ten corner, may have a bit more upside than that as a senior. Then there's JT Floyd. He is "vastly improved." I know. I'm skeptical, too. According to Rittenberg, Woolfolk had praise for Floyd as well.

The bad news: Justin Turner gets a universal "meh," with a couple of reports indicating that a 6'2", 210-pound corner is not likely to work out and a position move is in the cards once the quartet of freshman corners hits campus in fall. One talks up James Rogers, his teammate on the second team, in favor of him. Bleah. As of now the third string corners are walk-ons so Turner continues to labor at a position it seems he doesn't have the quicks for. With Gordon developing a death grip on deep safety, Turner's best shot at playing time in the near future may be as a spur or bandit.

111409_SPT_UM v WU_MRM As far as the hybrid SSs go: Jordan Kovacs has the weakside spot (bandit) locked down. This is no surprise for anyone who saw him play there as a freshman walk-on. That box safety thing is tailor made for him. The other side is a total mess, with Mike Williams giving way to a combination of redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon and walk-on Floyd Simmons. It's unclear whether the Williams demotion is a temporary thing due to injury (Williams is in green) or a long term move to other players, but it seems like it's closer to the latter. The Hawthorne move leaves a couple of marginal players duking it out at a spot that requires dealing with a lot of blocks. Reports have neither been positive or negative. They mostly confine themselves to who's playing where. Gordon has laid a couple pops, apparently.

I wouldn't be surprised to see someone move to the spur for fall; Carvin Johnson and Marvin Robinson will have opportunities to earn immediate starting jobs.

Kicking

With Will Hagerup not enrolled yet, there's not much you can tell about the punters. On the Huge Show yesterday Rodriguez said he was the most likely freshman to start (surprise!), so it sounds like there isn't anyone in camp threatening to make an Olesnavage-like move.

Placekicking, on the other hand, has everyone it's going to have and the initial reviews are seriously negative. Brendan Gibbons is reputed to have a big leg but questionable accuracy. Field goals have been something of a fire drill so far. Here's a terror-inducing Rodriguez quote:

"The kicking game is a concern simply because we've been inconsistent in practice. I couldn't tell you who our starting kicker is. It changes in 15 minutes. I don't know if that's going to be resolved until the fall. Brendan Gibbons has a strong leg, but he's been back and forth. Other special teams, we've got athletes, but the kicking and punting is not at the point where we feel comfortable."

Guh.

Comments

The Original Seth

April 8th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

The same people who say things like this are also of the opinion that Obi Ezeh is one of the top linebacking prospects in this year's LB class, and that Jake Locker is a guaranteed first overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Doesn't mean it won't be true, just means that they're going out on a limb and talking with a lot less watch-time under their belts than people who actually root for the team have.

Magnus

April 8th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

Full disclosure: I'm not as in tune with national NFL draft prospects as I am with recruiting. (I'm not an expert on recruiting, either, but I pay more attention to it, anyway.)

However, as someone else mentioned, he IS regarded as one of the best guards in the country... It's just that the people who regard him highly are people like Mel Kiper, who also think Obi Ezeh is one of the top few inside linebacker prospects.

I don't see Schilling as being a high pick in 2011. I think he lacks upper and lower body strength, and I don't think he's a great athlete. But he's started a lot of games, so I think that's why people rate him so highly.

Magnus

April 8th, 2010 at 2:43 PM ^

I just think he was an early bloomer. He developed physically before most kids did, but then his advantages/development tailed off. He's not a bad player. I just don't think he's a 1st or 2nd round draft prospect.

wile_e8

April 8th, 2010 at 11:32 AM ^

Will Campbell is huge and still working on technique issues but much better both physically and mentally; it sounds like those two will be the NT platoon. I'm pretty confident they'll be a good one.

Wait, what? I thought Campbell wasn't going to pan out.

Sgt. Wolverine

April 8th, 2010 at 11:33 AM ^

that we had no reliable placekicker, and we suffered for it. I thought we'd remember that and stay out of that situation for a good long while. How are we back there again already?

jamiemac

April 8th, 2010 at 11:36 AM ^

Obviously, we're going to see first hand in a week how much myth and reality there is in these reports.

D-Rob, Demens and Cam Gordon. Man, hopefully we can leave the spring game buying a lot more into their spring practice legends.

I am not worried about Turner. The kid can play. There is a ton of competition back there. The coaches will find a way to use him. Sounds likes it still a struggle figuring out where he should play and that cant be helping him climb the depth chart at any single position. He will make an impact on the field for the Wolverines before its said and done.

As for Lewan. That's great news. Many of us have believed that there has been more OL talent on the bench/redshirting than on the field for the last couple of years....Lewan is part of that crew. While not as experienced, its safe to say he's more physically gifted at that position than the two incumbents. I'd love to see him as part of the starting 5 sooner, rather than later.

He would also be a 4-year starter when he career ends. Future is looking pretty goodt.

Six Zero

April 8th, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

There's a reason that your dentist doesn't clean you up halfway through the root canal and have you eat some Grape Nuts.

There's a reason that your mechanic doesn't have you take 'er out for a spin halfway through the brake job.

There's a reason that your mom doesn't take the turkey out of the oven at 8am on Thanksgiving morning and serve it as is.

There's a reason you don't just turn off the TV after Andy Dufresne escapes.

There's a reason I'm writing all this... wait, what?

switch26

April 8th, 2010 at 11:45 AM ^

Why would we move Stonum from our punt returns? Is something else going on there or do they really think someone is gonna rack up more yards than stonum after he broke the record last year. He had the most punt return yards in half the attempts as breaston did.. I don't get it..

I don't think turner will be a bust, maybe just a bust at his DB position. Who knows there is a lot of time left before we play.

Bannerflyin

April 8th, 2010 at 11:51 AM ^

Roundtree was our most impressive wideout for the second half of last year..I'm hoping he's out there as a reliable (but not as explosive) slot or quicker outside receiver.

toomer18

April 8th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

I was at practice last thursday and I know it's early but I wasn't impressed. The thing that stood out the most to me was how small the team is. I stood next Gallon when he got out of practice and he looked like a middle schooler. I really didn't see much muscle out there either. I was really high on Barwis, but was not impressed with how these players looked. They didn't look like a top 25 program.

I will say Denard looked good, and fast. He made some great runs, but I was wondering if it was him or the defense.

Cam Gordon did look good. He was the only guy out there with any energy, and he had some big hits.

Tate looked the same as he did last year. I was hoping he would look better. I know they say he put on 10 lbs. he needs about 10 more.

I thought Gardner looked good, he is smooth.

The defense is small, and has a long way to go.

Im a huge UM fan, but I'm afraid its going to be another long season. I hope I'm wrong.