Spring Practice Checklist

Submitted by Brian on March 6th, 2013 at 11:33 AM


just win the job thx / just get touches thx

Michigan kicks off spring practice in ten days, whereupon they will hit each other and do things that are football related and not much of import will go down but we will suck it up with the world's largest straw anyway because that's just how we do. This is a welcome change from Rodriguez-era spring practices, where worlds rose and fell because of the quarterback situation. Michigan has that locked down thanks to Denard's elbow injury and Devin Gardner's play.

Still, there are things to look for in the insider buzz and coach-talkin' that we will start receiving soon. (Other schools are out there covering it in person, grumble.) Here are the things I hope we start hearing soon:

Dennis Norfleet is back on offense. Check($). Norfleet's coach told Mike Spath that Norfleet was moving back to a return/slot/change of pace role a couple weeks ago, which makes me go eeee. Speculation that Norfleet's move was related to JT Floyd's suspension appears to have been accurate:

"In the bowl, it was basically a situation where he wanted the chance to earn more playing time, the numbers were down, and they let him compete there, but it was never supposed to be a permanent move."

Next on the checklist is seeing Norfleet get some touches at a place other than kick return.

Devin Gardner has two years to play. Also check. High five your future self.

There are clear leaders for each of the interior line spots. Last year's late Barnum/Mealer flip presaged trouble, and trouble was received. Ideally Michigan will come out of spring practice with an offensive line two-deep written in ink—chiseled in stone is unfortunately out of the question.

In practice this means:

  • Kyle Kalis locks down a guard spot.
  • There are no whispers about serious competition for Jack Miller since Kugler is not on campus yet.
  • Bars, Bosch, Braden, or Bryant becomes the clear leader at the other guard spot.

If the last one doesn't come to fruition that's okay, as Michigan will probably be able to figure out one guard spot in fall camp without much trouble. If either of the first two is false that's not so good. If it's Kalis, that's a five-star guy falling off a stardom track. Meanwhile Miller's current competition at center is…


well, a "tight-lipped" Darrell Funk didn't mention any position changes other than the fact that Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow will receive looks at center this spring. If Michigan's going to start a walk-on, center is the place that I'm most comfortable having that happen, especially since they've all got a decent amount of experience there…

"That'll be a really interesting battle," Funk said. "I would prefer not to have another center battle for the second consecutive year, but it is what it is and we've got some candidates. They've all repped it for a year and a half, or two years, and we'll see who the best guy is."

…but I'm with Funk. Someone please lock that job down ASAP.

If it's a walk-on that might be okay. Burzynski was actually ahead of Miller as a sixth lineman on the goal line last year; Glasgow has the size (listed at 6'6", 305), has received some hype and is one of the better twitter follows on the team*. If either wins the job the least we can expect is that the line calls are consistently right, right?




needs moar this (Upchurch)

There's someone to throw to. I'd better damn well hear that after last year's Devin Funchess fade—little of it his fault since the guy caught everything they threw at him—that Devin Gardner is throwing to him on every play, often twice. I desire a low rumble of Breaston-level hype relating to Devin Funchess. Oh and I would also like him to be a credible blocker.

On the outside, it's time for Amarah Darboh or Jehu Chesson or hopefully both to start getting buzz as a possession magnet or deep ball specialist. Michigan is okay with Jeremy Gallon (suddenly rampant with Gardner at the helm) and Drew Dileo at two spots; they'd dearly like to acquire a large receiver for various purposes.

New-ish defensive lineman X is making The Leap. Prime candidates are Ondre Pipkins and either Frank Clark or Mario Ojemudia. Someone on that line should be getting way better right now, and while Pipkins isn't going to start this year Michigan is going to count on him heavily the next three years. He needs to be a guy who does not get knocked over by running backs one-on-one.

Then you've got a cavalcade of redshirt freshmen. Chris Wormley's ACL injury was 6 or 7 months ago so we probably won't get to hear much about him; it would be nice if Willie Henry, Matt Godin, or Tom Strobel started generating some buzz.

James Ross is beast. I'm not including either rising sophomore linebacker in the above discussion since we have already seen them in action plenty and they are marked for stardom. I still think Desmond Morgan is going to hold a job, leaving one of the two a frequent substitute rather than a starter. The preferred way for this to work out is for James Ross to put on 20 pounds and leave no doubt about who is Michigan's weakside linebacker for the next three years.

It's like nothing ever happened to Blake Countess. Obvious.

The loss of Jordan Kovacs, while inevitably painful, will be mitigated. Also obvious. The battle here is between Dymonte Thomas, who enrolled early, Jarrod Wilson, and little-used veterans Marvin Robinson and Josh Furman. Jeremy Clark may figure in as well.

I'm not sure how I want that to work out just yet but like center, it's for the best if someone grabs the job and sits on it. At least here seem to be a number of reasonable options.

Starting Beard is taken care of. Elliott Mealer is gone. Time to step it up, people. This town needs Vikings.



March 6th, 2013 at 12:42 PM ^

Nobody really knows.  Heitzman played well at SDE as a backup, but Wormley was hurt and Strobel earned some buzz.  Washington is virtually guaranteed a spot.  Beyer isn't very good, but Clark and Ojemudia (both of whom produced more) couldn't supplant him.  And one would expect that Pipkins should be able to push for one of the DT jobs.

His Dudeness

March 6th, 2013 at 1:49 PM ^

Completely disagree.


Black has been a starter at SDE and been serviceable. Not everybody is going to be a Clowney-esque "eyes pop out player." Serviceable starters with a few above average players and one eyes pop out player are all you can really hope for on each side of the ball (in my opinion). Black is not "unimpressive" as you state. He is a solid, albeit not-remarkeable player.

His Dudeness

March 6th, 2013 at 2:09 PM ^

Your consistent bashing of most of our players set the precedent for my assuming you were bashing Black here. Your writing style makes you come off as a person who bashes every player who isn't a superstar.

I think your expectations of our players needs to be recalculated.


March 6th, 2013 at 2:19 PM ^

You said the same thing I said, which is that Black's play has been unimpressive/unremarkable.  I guess you might as well change the focus and argue about your perception of other things I've said in the past, to cover up the fact that you can't identify synonyms.

There's really no point in arguing with you about anything further, because you clearly have a problem with me...and I don't care.

His Dudeness

March 6th, 2013 at 2:26 PM ^

First of all my inability to identify synonyms is bested only by your inability to scout high school football talent (and is also a a personal attack - which I will point out to the wonderful mods that I didn't stoop to here until provoked).

Second your opinion of Black is horseshit and I brought up the points why, like I was told to do by the wonderful mods.

SC Wolverine

March 7th, 2013 at 10:25 AM ^

I appreciate your critical assessments of our players (critical not being used in the sense of a synonym for negative).  This is one of the things that makes MGoBlog so worth reading -- actual analysis and an attempt to be objective, supported with data.  This is not RCMB or Bucknuts, after all...


March 6th, 2013 at 2:29 PM ^

Has shown flashes of good play-making ability and could generate some pass rush out of the DT spot.  He's been serviceable, at worst, but his upside remains high.  In comparison, Campbell was far less effective as a Junior. 

The kid has talent that the coaches have discussed openly.  I suspect he'll be a focul point for coaching efforts and be a classic example of the Senior-year-stepup.  I don't get why fans are so negative about him other than there are shiny new things nearby.


March 6th, 2013 at 12:48 PM ^

Mattison and Hoke likes to rotate a lot of guys so you really can't say there is a definite starting line up because we have many different line ups to throw at different offensive packages.

You could have..



Those line ups are just to name a couple. You also have line-ups with Mario in at end, or wormley at tackle, strobel at end. It all depends what the offense is doing at what package we want to throw at them. One line-up may be better against the run while another one can get more pass rush


March 6th, 2013 at 2:39 PM ^

You are right -- People make a big deal out of who starts but typically it's a rotation.  Martin and Van Bergen were outliers in their ability to play every down and in the gap between their ability and their backups.

It is possible that they go with a 3-man rotation (e.g., Black, Washington, Pipkins) on the interior but I think they perfer to have 2 guys at each spot to avoid any confusion.  Washington has played both, so maybe he is able to handle moving between spots.  Seems like a stretch though.

Any conversation about the DL starters should include the 2-deep as a primary consideration.

That said, I don't think they'll go to far beyond 8 guys rotating up front.  Maybe 9 if they really want Clark-Ojemudia-Beyer to play at high energy from WDE and none of them emerges ahead of the others.

My prediction:

WDE:  Clark /Ojemudia

SDE:  Black /Heitzman

DT:  Wormley /Henry

NT:  Washington /Pipkins

Beyer, Strobel, Ash will get chances but you can't play everybody.


March 6th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

Yeah, I think Funchess', Darboh's, and Chesson's progress are the three I'm most interested in hearing about. Also, didn't Jake Butt enroll early?

SF Wolverine

March 6th, 2013 at 12:51 PM ^

I will be a lot less concerned about who is going to be a breakout runner.  Looking forward to the old days, in the years after an A-Train/Hoard/Perry graduated and everyone was all "who will be our go-to guy this year?"  And then, by about the third game or so, you were saying "y'know, this Hart kid really looks like a pretty solid runner. "

Not to take anything at all away from Michigan's long line of awesome college backs, but a lot of that success was built on the strength of the o-line, which was sending a guy or so to the NFL every year.



March 6th, 2013 at 1:35 PM ^

Oline helps a running back a lot, a great back can make up for a poor line but put both together and its like woah. look at PJ hill when he was at wisconsin, line paved the way and he had like 1200 yards every year it seemed, compared with Barry Sanders and others like him who just make people look foolish trying to tackle him and then you combine the oline and the back and you get bama the last for years with ingramn, richardson, yeldon, lacy running behind warmack, jones, fluker etc. who all either already got drafted high or are going to go pretty high this year.


March 6th, 2013 at 7:05 PM ^

Having an improved O-line will help, but there have been numerous articles here on MGoBlog that predict we're still 2-3 years away from having a good O-line.  We're still a hodgepodge of upperclassmen that lack talent and underclassmen that lack experience.  But even with this, our O-line has at least been good enough to give the RB a chance.  I'm sure an elite O-line can open a path you could drive a car through, but with what we've got, they can usually reduce the threat to a single unblocked defender.  And THAT'S where I'm concerned.  You can't count on every guy being blocked every play; if there's a one-on-one the RB has to at least win that battle, at least if it's a mismatch.  But they don't.  I was seeing the supposedly shifty guys being brought down by 300-pound DEs and the "north-south" runners getting stopped cold by cornerbacks.  Yes I'm talking about the better defenses we faced but, guys?  MGoBlog typically puts the blame on scheme or O-line but I remember some ye olde Michigan RBs that would annihilate that first defender.

What I really miss is seeing Biakabatuka meeting three unblocked OSU defenders, getting low like he's saying, "Bring it," and dragging them for five yards en route to first down. . . after first down. . . after first down.  OSU typically has good defenses but in that game if there wasn't a O-line bust they were almost helpless.  OK, I'm spoiled, but you see the disparity here?  The RB is just as important to a running game as the O-line.  I said all last season that something was wrong with Fitz -- he made defenses account for him two seasons ago, but last season pretty much any defender was confident they could win that one-on-one battle.


March 6th, 2013 at 1:24 PM ^

I'm sorry, this is completely off topic, but I can't stop staring at Gardner's legs in the picture of his pass to Funchess - where is the rest of the body (presumably an OL) of the left leg he's stepping/leaping over??  Or, in other words, why is there a maize leg between Gardner's legs?

back to the topic at hand:  I'm really anxious to see if any of our RBs can step up and do good things this spring, which will mean good things for both the way the OL is performing collectively and for the depth potential at RB once Fitz, Green & Smith are all healthy/with the team.


March 6th, 2013 at 1:46 PM ^

I'm eagerly awaiting all the speculative chatter. 

Curious about something -- from a coach's perspective, what are the primary objectives of the spring practices and the spring game?  Is it to begin to sort out depth charts?  Is it to re-stress fundamentals and technique?  Something else?

Yeah, I realize "all of the above" applies ... but if a coach was forced to prioritize what would be the answer?  My sense is it's more about re-establishing fundamentals first ... setting a pattern to be in the players' minds during the summer.  But I could be wrong.

San Diego Mick

March 6th, 2013 at 3:04 PM ^

However, I do believe a big part of spring ball is to establish who will be on the 2-deep list for both sides of the ball before any freshmen might come in and prove themselves worthy of playing time.

I'd like us to finally get to a point where we have a good enough depth chart that sees a lot of rotating guys who can make plays whether they're a starter or not.

Sextus Empiricus

March 6th, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

Bellomy will take the 2 snaps then? I don't see any word on his progress other than deflected comments by Hoke and Borges. It will be interesting to see if Shane's RS is protected this year and if Russell progresses.


March 6th, 2013 at 3:17 PM ^

Question on I line. Lets say kugler gets to campus and is the best blocker of the group at center but doesn't know the calls. Is there anything preventing a lewan from making the pre snap calls at the line? Would hate to give up athleticism just to have a headier more experienced kid.


March 6th, 2013 at 4:44 PM ^

What the heck do they do if the center (or QB, or MIKE) comes down with laryngitis?  Seriously ... okay in every other way, but unable to really bark out the calls?  Do they sit the better athlete for someone who can be heard?

Serious question ... often wondered that.


March 6th, 2013 at 5:20 PM ^

There are hand signals for QB's/WR's and for the defensive side of the ball.  Sometimes the QB makes the line protection calls, anyway, and while I've never experienced a center with laryngitis, I would likely suggest that one of the OG's makes the line calls.


March 6th, 2013 at 11:58 PM ^

Early thoughts.... it is not a surprise that Gallon is starting to break out with a throwing QB looking his way.  He has been electric since he arrived on campus but has not gotten enough throws to stand out as much as he is now.  Jeremy is a fantastic football player and even with his height, he someday has an outside shot at the NFL... quick slot guys who are tough and can go up and get it always have a shot there...which brings me to..

QWash (nickname of the year thanks above....).. he has a chance to play himself in to a high level NFL draft pick.  He has the perfect body to be the plugger on a 3-4 and he also has enough quickness and motor to make plays too.  I look for Q to be all conference this year.

RB.  A lot of people are talking up Derrick Green...but dont count out the kid Deveon from Ohio who's brother played for sparty...he is a tough SOB and may even run harder than Green.  Also look for Justice Hayes or Johnson to duke it out for that 3rd down back spot....Rawls? will he somehow add footspeed?