true center. [Patrick Barron]
Congratulations everybody on breathing through two Final Fours. Meanwhile the football guys are doing football-like things while we wait for scraps to fashion into hope dolls for next season.
We should, then, step back for a moment here and try to enforce some kind of context. Spring football is an oasis of football practice with not the full team, months before the season, and mostly filtered down from coaches to media. Whatever the depth chart is by the end of it won’t be the depth chart in fall. Our feeble efforts to discern things about the team next September are hampered by a general lack of information and the coaches’ preference to keep everybody motivated. Like Harbaugh talked for several minutes on his Attack Each Day podcast this week on the offensive line and managed to name every single guy on it.
Anyway most of this is going to be about quarterback and the offensive line because that’s what we worry about the most and what we got the most about.
What we want to hear: No matter what, things won’t be as bad as last year.
What we’re hearing: Quarterback play should be improved if only because the floor right now is Brandon Peters plus an offseason of maturity. From several reports, regression is not a thing to worry about but challengers are. Depending on your source, McCaffrey is either neck and neck with Peters or slightly ahead. Having watched the Amazon special I think we can interpret that as competition will go into fall and neither young candidate should be counted out. It would be highly stupid to make a prediction right now.
Also Shea has really good ball placement.
What it means: Shea does appear to be the leader even though somebody seems to have shut off the hype valve. We’re going to have to wait until the NCAA committee on whatever reviews the case because Ole Miss is fighting it. My understanding of the Traitorous Losers (nice mascot)’s case is they told all these players there wouldn’t be significant sanctions because they honestly believed they had done nothing wrong because they had done nothing wrong. That defense would be facially ridiculous except hi, this the NCAA, have we met? An encouraging sign is that the NCAA has asked for more information:
Attorney Thomas Mars, who represents Patterson and several other erstwhile Ole Miss players, said the NCAA's request for more information is not uncommon and that he expects Patterson and Michigan will be able to respond in the next few days. Mars said there's no specific timetable for when they expect a final answer, but it's clear "the NCAA isn't dragging their feet on the waiver request and won't take any more time than is necessary."
"I'm encouraged by this particular request," Mars said. "From my perspective, the questions Shea's case manager asked are the right ones to be asking."
My completely unscientific guess is 69.314159% Patterson is cleared this year, and 51.3341% Michigan is fine at quarterback regardless.
[After THE JUMP: a lot to unpack about the offensive line, and who the coaches think is their best player on defense will surprise you and not surprise you]
What we want to hear: The inside has taken a leap, and a man has emerged on the outside.
What we’re hearing: Cesar Ruiz is happening. Baumgardner, with apologies to Kugler:
Cesar Ruiz at center helps mitigate pass pro communication issues because, as Ed Warinner said tonight, he’s advanced for his age mentally. Ruiz appears to be this line’s anchor, whatever it ends up as.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 5, 2018
“He understands football very well,” Warriner said. “But he is very powerful, plays with a good base, loves football, quick feet for a center, too. He kinda has the whole package.”
Ruiz has it.
“I have two starting centers in the National Football League, both started as rookies,” Warriner said, referring to Minnesota Vikings center Pat Elflein and Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley. “He has that kind of ability some day to get to that point. Not yet, I mean he’s just a young kid. But if he keeps going, I know what they look like. … He can be the quarterback of the O-Line.”
Added Runyan Jr.: “He’s one of the most athletic centers I’ve ever seen. He’s big, strong, powerful. I’m looking forward to what he can do, even though he’s only a sophomore, so that’s really really exciting to see his development.”
Warinner is having them do more live practice against the defense as opposed to working on technique against equipment—given Michigan’s defensive line and the things they can do to screw with protections I think that’s a good idea. Bredeson and Runyan told 247’s Isaiah Hole that they’ve got a better attitude this year:
Now, with a focus on revamping the line, those players are developing something of a "swagger," left guard Ben Bredeson said on Tuesday, adding: "Everybody's got a little bit of an attitude. I think we've been playing – definitely a lot better than I've seen in the past. So we're making a lot of improvements as an offense in general."
Michigan fourth-year offensive tackle Jon Runyan Jr. agrees
“Coach Warinner – he brings in a new, refreshing energy,” Runyan said. “We like working with him. He's tweaking a little bit of our techniques. Pass pro has been going really well. Everything's meshing with him and looking forward to what these next seven spring ball practices will be with him and how much further we improve.
Repeating a general offensive theme, they’re also simplifying their pass protections.
"We've simplified the offense a little bit more. There's not as much thinking when you're (at the line), you make a call and you go," Runyan added. "We've tweaked techniques and stuff's a bit more comfortable.
As I mentioned Harbaugh went into detail on the OL in his podcast. Stuff from that: Cesar Ruiz has separated himself, he and Ben Bredeson are the two best offensive linemen. Runyan and JBB having good springs. Hudson and Filiaga both growing rapidly, and poised to separate themselves. Onwenu another guy who’s poised to do that. Stueber, Honigford, Vastardis, Robinson, Other Speight all in a position to compete. Jack Harbs: “They look different” and the staff is seeing the results of Ben Herbert’s weight work, mentioning Spanellis as a good example. If you’re checking off at home, yes, that’s the entire offensive line group except Ulizio.
The insider chatter is all very positive, so much so that I wonder if they’re being asked to blow smoke at us. One thing got repeated enough that I think there’s something to it is Juwann Bushell-Beatty has made it, and will likely have one of the tackle jobs.
What it means: The Ruiz stuff is both in line with what we saw last year (displacing Onwenu at guard) and his recruiting profile (he got to play center at a high level, which is rare for a HS lineman) so I believe it.
So…Warinner uber alles? I’m not sure—everything is so on the nose that I’m cynical about it. Picking through all of this here’s my best guess at the actual shape of the line (and again, this is just me spitballing and should not be exchanged for any good or service or currency):
- LT: They want to pick a left tackle first and then find a right side, and they don’t want it to be JBB, who’s the current leader. Runyan might be the next best player but he’s not a left tackle, so they’re hoping that Hudson or Filiaga make a jump, and neither yet has. Since Hudson is way more raw I think he’s our better hope.
- LG: Bredeson is upper classman skrong now, not sure on his pass pro but I bet he benefits from simplified protections.
- C: Happening.
- RG: Onwenu is battling for the job. I bet he gets there but they’re not going to give it to him, especially if Runyan isn’t needed at a tackle spot. Competition is stronger inside than out, and Onwenu has the most tentative hold on his job.
- RT: Wide open, but I think the coaches prefer to have JBB here where his mauling run blocking can mitigate strongside DEs and his pass pro doesn’t have to be perfect. Runyan, Hudson and Filiaga are the likely options.
Runyan’s athleticism is reportedly excellent so with him it might be a matter of matching the other guys’ strength. I choose to read the fact that they made him available as evidence he’s likely to be among the best five when things sort themselves out.
Freshmen receivers always look awkward. [Fuller]
What we want to hear: Big jump in understanding routes, cutting down on freshman mistakes, sophomores emerging.
What we’re hearing: According to Harbaugh, DPJ is their best receiver, Oliver Martin has made a big move up the depth chart, Tarik Black is back ($). Occasionally we get another reminder that Nico Collins is going to be really good, which I take to mean he made another Santana guitar solo catch, but it might also mean he’s a year away from fully formed threat.
Names we haven’t heard recently are those of the upperclassmen: Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, Grant Perry, Nate Schoenle.
Also via Josh Metellus via Rivals ($) there’s a new name we haven’t heard before:
“It’s a great competition between those guys,” he exclaimed. “They’re a lot more aggressive, and are more disciplined when it comes to catching the ball. They’re more mature now. One of them — [redshirt freshman] Jake McCurry — has really shown a lot of improvement from last season. He’s the one standing out to me right now.”
What it means: The 2017 haul is an all-timer, and if they are on track that means we’re due for the sophomore leap to start becoming apparent right about now. I think it’s happening. The DPJ > Black bit is probably because Black is coming back from injury somewhat, but also highly encouraging about DPJ.
My general receiver take is talent is evident and accessible early, but getting all the subtleties of routes down takes years. The great receivers are talented bomb threats as freshmen, progressively stop screwing up over their sophomore years, and become unstoppable as juniors. So last year was a bummer for Crawford et al., but expected for the guys a year behind them.
What we want to hear: Did you say Gentry looks like an NFL guy? Something nice about the blocking. Wheatley’s surgery went well?
What we’re hearing: Yep. Harbaugh said Gentry is looking much stronger after winter weights. He hasn’t said they’re going to run more offense through the TE seam, or that they’re doing more option routes for him like they did for Butt, though. Also brought up McKeon, whom they love. But nobody said anything about blocking.
Oh, and Moore so far looks like a home run hire.
What it means: Michigan will at least have a pair and perhaps three (insiders still keep saying don’t forget to mention Eubanks) really good receiving options, and given Harbaugh and the rest of the depth chart I could see the offense using on a lot of two- and three-TE sets this year to take advantage of that. I really wish Wheats wasn’t hurt though because one of the things that made those sets so effective at Stanford and San Fran under Harbaugh was OT-sized behemoths who could give you a six-OL look while still flooding the field with viable receivers.
What we want to hear: “Ben Mason” and violent words. Any name besides Ben Mason.
What we’re hearing: More Ben Mason with the blood code on.
What it means: I should probably start keeping a list of Murderface Metaphors. So far:
- Hammer. “Giving him an opportunity to smash more people is always a good idea.” –JayHarbs
- Hammerhead. “He’s just going to go get it. He’s our go get it guy. He’s that hammerhead that every team has. He’s just going to run into a wall if you tell him to.” –Devin Bush Jr.
- An Intense Guy. –Chris Evans, coach of football
- Meathead. “He likes benching and eating raw meat,” Kugler said, drawing laughs. “He’s the biggest meathead on our team.
- Ol’ Murderface. –MGoBlog
- Object in Motion and Pleased by That. “He is the type of person that goes from point A to point B with every ounce of energy he has and enjoys the physical aspect of arriving.” –Don Brown
- Wrecking Ball. “That’s Ben Mason — he’s a wrecking ball,” Higdon said, smiling. “I knew what I was getting into when I was running behind him. He’s going to knock out the first guy he sees and I’m going to trust it and run behind him.”
Also they really should find another fullback, though I bet that doesn’t happen until VanSumeren arrives.
What we want to hear: Kareem Walker I guess?
What we’re hearing: Everything but. From insiders, Higdon is either just ahead or well ahead of Evans for RB#1, but Evans is building on his excellent Ohio State game and will of course be a big part of the offense. Behind them Harbaugh brought up a surprise name: Tru Wilson, along with O’Maury Samuels. Nothing about Walker, but given how obsessed the reporting pool always seems to be about Walker I don’t know what to make of that.
What it means: Tru has seen the field in spring and late games before and he doesn’t look half bad, so I’m not going to read much into this except they want to keep these guys motivated now that the depth chart is becoming apparent.
Khaleke doing crazy stuff, Kwity comin on. [Patrick Barron]
This part can be short because it’s mostly returning starters and the arrows are all either up or injured.
What we want to hear: All good things.
What we’re hearing: All good things, including this is Don Brown’s fastest group ever($). Mone is a leader, Dwumfour hype continues unabashed, Harbaugh brought up Josh Uche as more than just a pass rusher so yeah let’s just have a Stauskas reference added to my Poole-ish Uche crush, Jim!
Harbaugh also said that their arguably best defensive player is…Devin Bush Jr
Fast fast fast fast! Ready to separate himself…already separated himself but ready to separate into greatness.
They’ve been hype on him for years. More from Harbaugh: Josh Ross inserting himself as a MLB and WLB, Aubrey is “such a talented player” and “is putting it together,” Khaleke Hudson has been an absolute stud, David Long having the best spring of the corners. Defense has great leadership in Rashan Gary and Tyree Kinnel.
The Greg Mattison presser confirmed a lot of things we’d already been hearing. Dwumfour has a Hurstian first step. They love Kemp, Lawrence Marshall has turned his career around and is on a Godin track now, and Kwity Paye came back super strong and ready to give Chase Winovich a breather; the new thing is he can sub for Gary too.
What it means: The defense is going to be good you guys. Ross is probably up with Gil in the WLB sweepstakes, and they’re still trying to access peak Solomon, which he’s not there yet but it’s there.