REMEMBER US?!?!? [Patrick Barron]
Apologies to everyone for interrupting your hoops and hockey tournament coverage but Michigan football’s spring practice got underway on Friday, and a few things have happened or were said to be happening with that other sport some of us still follow. If you’ve been kind of tuned out since the derpy bowl game I’ve tried to compile the most important bits we’ve learned since into this post.
By the way AZBlue wrote an excellent distillation of things Sam’s been putting out on the radio. I’ve bumped that to the diaries. Let’s go by position I guess:
Gone: Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Alex Malzone.
Off redshirt: Dylan McCaffrey
New faces: Shea Patterson, Joe Milton.
North! North I say! [Bryan Fuller]
Shea Patterson’s eligibility is held up for the moment (scroll down about half-way) because Ole Miss is going to be petty. They have Patterson’s reportedly ironclad case to be freed of sitting out a transfer year, but they don’t have to respond until 10 days after the ??? days it takes the NCAA to send a hard copy to Oxford of the same thing Michigan sent.
Harbaugh said the coaches are still treating it like a three-way race between Patterson, Peters, and McCaffrey, with snaps split equally. Joe Milton is on campus and impressing in his preparation but a redshirt is most likely.
Gone: Ty Isaac
Off redshirt: Kurt Taylor
Arrive in fall: Christian Turner, Michael Barrett, Hassan Haskins
It’s more or less the same depth chart as it’s been since Isaac’s injury last year. That is your co-starters remain Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, with Kareem Walker and O’Maury Samuels in competition for two hundred-odd carries behind them. Sam spoke with RBs coach Jay Harbaugh who mentioned Karan Higdon’s growth at running the counter cutbacks that we wrote about last year. The incoming freshmen were mentioned with the walk-ons, so I’m reading that as a four-man stable for the moment.
[after THE JUMP: the rest]
Gone: LT Mason Cole, OC Patrick Kugler, Ja’Raymond Hall
Off redshirt: Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Steuber, Joel Honigford, Grant Newsome?
Arrive in fall: Jalen Mayfield, Ryan Hayes
I thought of the nicest thing I could [via me]
Six offensive linemen return who started last year, however among them only Ben Bredeson, Mike Onwenu, and Cesar Ruiz appear likely to start on this year’s line. Via Harbaugh, Ruiz is has made the transition to center and might be the best player this year on the line. Various offseason chatter had Andrew Vastardis and Stephen Spanellis also in competition for graduated Patrick Kugler’s job but your three no-redshirt guys are mostly likely your starting interior.
Outside it’s still a mess. Despite a world-class Rubik’s Cube culture, Michigan did not get the Rice OT transfer Calvin Anderson, so it’s back to last year’s material plus a year and new coaches. James Hudson, who moved from DT last year, gets mentioned the most often by coaches—hopefully that means they’ve found a solid four-year starter. Of the rest of the 2017 haul, Chuck Filiaga gets the most mention; Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford were mentioned among the guards. Max Bultman of The Athletic had a “four key storlines” article($) that of course mentioned the tackles but got the problem backwards:
Harbaugh rattled off some names he felt good about — Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Jon Runyan, Chuck Filiaga and James Hudson — but this feels like a group where you want two guys to really emerge. After last season, the skeptics won’t go quiet until the starters, at the very least, are moving the bodies across from them.
Moving bodies in the run game wasn’t the problem; pass protection was.
The other three sometime starters, Nolan Ulizio, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, and Jon Runyan Jr. all saw time at right tackle last year, but none lead for either open job. Ulizio doesn’t even get mentioned. I have a hunch that Runyan’s still the fallback option if none of the rolls above hit, and JBB’s a better option than we’re giving him credit for.
“Grant Newsome Lives” articles peppered the offseason, and there’s nobody I’d like to see back on the field more, but as of Friday…
Is Grant Newsome able to practice yet?
He can do anything with the team right now?
“He’s working out, he’s conditioning, but he’s not at the point to come back and practice with the team.”
…hope is still just that. I did a double-take last week when Newsome announced on Twitter he had been accepted to grad school at “Ford” before realizing he meant the Michigan School for Public Policy. Odds of Newsome solving this year’s left tackle situation remain about the same as Newsome becoming President of the United States one day, i.e. ~25%.
Gun to head, the OL from left to right is Hudson-Bredeson-Ruiz-Onewnu-[Ask again in fall] and President Newsome wins his 2044 reelection in a landside.
Tight Ends and Fullbacks
Gone: Khalid Hill, Henry Poggi, Ian Bunting
New face: Jared Wangler (moved from WLB)
Arrive in fall: Ben VanSumeren, Mustapha Muhammad, Luke Schoonmaker
Per Harbaugh Friday, TJ Wheatley has a broken toe and won’t participate in spring practice, a bummer since he’s the only presently enrolled option at the “moves-people” tight end position. Haven’t heard much on the “move” tight end position except for Nick Eubanks getting as much mention as McKeon and Gentry. Presume progress. Ben Mason named one of the most vocal guys on the team with Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary. Jared Wangler has moved to fullback.
Gone: Nate Johnson, Mo Ways, Drake Harris
Off redshirt: Tarik Black, Oliver Martin
Arrive in fall: Ronnie Bell
Grant Perry is limited this spring due to injury. Donovan Peoples-Jones was the subject of a film study by Nick Baumgardner that showed a marked improvement over last season (if you still have lingering Freep resentment I get it, but if you’re looking to let that grudge go hiring Nick to replace the late Drew Sharp is as good an excuse as you’ll get.) Nico Collins is getting a fair amount of hype from his coaches and teammates, and Oliver Martin was close to burning his redshirt last year. Add the return of Tarik Black, who could have played in the bowl game if they didn’t want to waste a medshirt, and that 2017 class should feature prominently this year.
Gone: Maurice Hurst, Corey Malone-Hatcher
Off redshirt: Luigi Vilain, Deron Irving-Bey, Donovan Jeter, Phil Paea
New face: Taylor Upshaw
Arrive in fall: Aidan Hutchinson, Julius Welschof
rejected cover for this year’s book by MonuMental
The starters are no surprise: Chase and Gary on the weak and strong sides, and in the middle is a continuation of the rotation of Aubrey Solomon/Bryan Mone at nose and Michael Dwumfour taking over Hurst’s job. Sam notes Mone has come far, dropping weight and healing well.
Three different coaches told Sam Webb($) that Michael Dwumfour is going to be, well not Mo Hurst but a worthy successor to Mo Hurst’s job, with Mattison going so far to say “He has got that first and second step that Mo had.” He’s up to 295 and no longer slowed by injury.
The award for most hyped backup (not including NT rotation) goes to Kwity Paye, who is up to 256 pounds from the 235 sopping wet he played at last year. The other two guys in the rotation are Lawrence Marshall, Carlo Kemp (see below), and Deron Irving-Bey, who’s up to 300 and backing up at interior. Taylor Upshaw is on campus and impressed with his speed.
Carlo Kemp is another guy who’s coming up unbidden in coach conversations. Kemp is up near 280, and one-arm lifting dumbells that weigh as much as the starting corners. The coaches are considering using him inside. That probably says more about the depth after the three DT starters, though that’s not much of a concern considering there’s three.
Jeter and Vilain are still recovering from last year’s injuries. Paea is practicing at DT. Nothing about RoJo.
Rashan Gary might be wearing #98 this spring. On good authority Michigan dumped the Legends Jersey program because Harbaugh made it one of his points for taking the job. The old rules are presumably back in play, which were you had to be a family member or direct descendent to wear a retired number (in Crisler there’s a display of several athletes doing so). If the Harmons are okay I don’t see an issue, but wild guess: it’s just a spring fling.
Gone: Mike McCray, Elysee Mbem-Bosse, Mike Wroblewski
Off redshirt: Jordan Anthony, Joshua Ross, Drew Singleton
Arrive in fall: Cam McGrone
Hello backfield my old friend. [Fuller]
I’m just block-quoting AZBlue’s now-a-diary:
LBs - Don Brown sounded almost giddy when talking about this. I believe the quote was "I am going to just sit back grinning like a Cheshire cat watching the competition. Has never had a group like this. Depth chart sounds like MLB - Bush, Anthony, Singleton WLB - Gil/Ross battle and Singleton. Viper - Hudson and Glasgow with Furbush and Uche in the more traditional SAM role. Singleton (as seen above) will get time at MLB and WLB to find him a place on the field.
The Devin Bush Jr. hype translated into all-B1Gish play last year so it’s not surprising that the coaches are raving about him still. Sam stayed on Don Brown about Singleton and got back a “Yes! He and Josh Ross…” answer, and something about nutrition($), FWIW. It is nice to hear the good Dr. Blitz isn’t sweating the rest of the depth chart, since we barely saw any of them last year except for some Devin Gil (and Sam but I’m talking about the Mike and Will spots). Josh Ross has a slim lead on Gil as next WLB starter, and Jordan Anthony is coming on as Bush’s understudy, and the coaches will rotate in Drew Singleton at both spots because they want him on the field. Michigan might have had a shot at getting Mike McCray a 6th year; I choose to take the fact that they didn’t look into it as evidence they’re not worried about what they’ve seen in practice.
Your traditional SAMs remain Noah Furbush and Josh Uche, though they still have slightly different roles.
Ben Mason is at fullback but may come back and play some MLB as well.
Arriving in fall: Sammy Faustin, German Green, Casey Hughes (the Utah transfer)
Steve Lorenz posted an interview with Don Brown and Chris Partridge that had a ton of information about all the positions, as well as Brown’s thoughts on “havoc rate” (spoiler: he likes to cause it). It also gave a fairly specific rundown of the state of the safety depth chart. Tyree Kinnel remains locked in at the free safety position, and is by far the most advanced at getting the defense set and adjusted to motions, etc.
But the coaches are really high on Tyree’s top backup, Jaylen Kelly-Powell, who’s getting to play safety full time after bouncing between that and cornerback and nickel last year. He’s no longer a stick.
Josh Metellus however appears to be in a wide open competition for his Rover job, with Ja’Marick Woods the main challenger, and Brad Hawkins, traded back from Viper, charging up from behind with tantalizing upside:
“You have Brad Hawkins. That’s my guy," [Partridge] said of the former Camden (NJ) star. "I think that’s a great move (to move him back). He’s a natural cover guy. We have to get him moving along on learning both spots. He had a really eye-opening year practicing at VIPER and it’s going to make him a much better safety.”
The Viper spot remains Khaleke Hudson’s; Jordan Glasgow was the man traded for Hawkins. The traditional SAM job is covered in the linebackers.
New face: Myles Sims
Arriving in fall: Gemon Green, Vincent Gray
The starters: They good. Ambry Thomas is making a case for more rotation, Benjamin St-Juste has “come a long way.” Brandon Watson holding steady. “Spyder” Sims has stuck as a nickname for Myles Sims, who is described in various synonyms of “long.”
Gone: Tim Drevno (OC), Greg Frey (OL), Brian Smith (safeties), Kevin Tolbert (S&C)
New faces: Ed Warinner (OL), Sherrone Moore (TEs), Jim McElwain (WRs), Al Washington (DL/LB), Ben Herbert (S&C)
Job shift: Chris Partridge from LBs to safeties
A lot of new faces in the program, in and out of the official coaching ranks.
Offense saw the most movement. Erstwhile OTs/TEs coach Greg Frey joined FSU (his alma mater) and they very gingerly removed Drevno. This year the NCAA begins allowing a 9th paid assistant, which they also spent on O.
Those additions: tight ends coach Sherrone Moore, OL guru Ed Warinner, and WRs coach Jim McElwain. Moore was at CMU and is a hot up-and-comer who should give Michigan a few good years of value as a coach and recruiter en route to an OC/HC career. Warinner, whose son is a walk-on at State, built the good early Urban OLs until he was Peters Principled to OC. McElwain…is a former SEC coach who might be an upgrade over a disinterested Pep and grad assistants in training the young receivers corps. His Florida career suggests he’s not much of a recruiter and should be kept away from offensive strategy (and sharks) at all costs. They’ve also brought back Roy Roundtree as a ballyhooed grad assistant.
Nobody has been named offensive coordinator. Harbaugh claims it’s a collaborative effort, and noted Bo never had an OC*. In reality the OC is Harbaugh and will be Harbaugh.
Defensively they’ve brought in Al Washington, another Don Brown acolyte, to replace Don Brown acolyte Brian Smith. Washington has coached all over the place, mostly special teams and DL, and is listed as a “defensive assistant coach.” My guess is he’ll be working with the young outside linemen and outside (Sam) linebackers. Chris Partridge moved back to help in the secondary—fortunately with Michael Zordich still around and Devin Bush Sr. back as a secondary analyst.
New strength coach Ben Herbert, who did his best work building Wisconsin’s meat grinders, is working more on core strength; his predecessor apparently leaned more toward conditioning.
* [De jure this is true, at least until Moeller was named offensive coordinator shortly before Bo’s retirement. Via Dr. Sap’s interview with Jerry Hanlon in 2015 HTTV however it’s clear that the little line coach was offensive coordinator in all but title—and he definitely wanted that title!]
Simplified Offense and RPOs!
I think this was an RPO: if the SAM stays in the box O’Korn throws the Evans bubble, otherwise it’s a Higdon backside fold that makes the frontside DE think he’s getting optioned.
A big theme of this offseason has been Harbaugh’s mea culpa for last year’s offensive problems. Coach told Sam Webb on the radio that he probably put too much on their plates last year:
And then identifying what we do offensively. Some of that is getting really good at the things we're good at and what our personnel fits. There will be less volume to (the offense). I felt like there were times where we would put things in and then run them in the game, but the players hadn't practiced it enough.
I just went through the film of the Ohio State game this weekend and 1) Yes, and 2) Michigan kept the Buckeyes off balance all game by seesawing between completely different looks. At the end of the 1st quarter they ran an inside zone off an Ace-11 look. Next down after the quarter break they came out in an unbalanced goal line formation and sprung McKeon for a worst-waldo TD.
The shifting identity throughout the season was a more serious issue. That was somewhat unavoidable due to quarterback injuries, and also self-inflicted. After an offseason of Pep-style let-Speight-read-five-guys-in-a-pattern and Frey-style zone running, they chose Ulizio for RT at the last minute even though he couldn’t pass block. Unable to protect Speight, they nerfed his reads dramatically vs Purdue, and then he went down. Then it was super-simplified for O’Korn through PSU. After that they scrapped the zone, inserted JBB at RT, and ran manball with Brandon Peters under center until Wisconsin knocked him out. By Ohio State (with Runyan now at RT) this had devolved to a grab-bag of gimmicks; the bowl game was a clown show.
Harbaugh sat down with Sam last week and said the moment he knew the passing game was in trouble was Speight’s first interception against Florida:
“I'll give you a real specific when it comes to training up the quarterbacks. I felt like where I made just a huge mistake was training in the offseason,” Harbaugh admitted. “In the spring practices and the training camp we go against our defense. It's offense against defense… one's against one's. We really did that exclusively in spring ball and a good 10 days or so into training camp. Our defense is different. They play a lot of cover one… a lot of press man… But I didn't feel like we showed them enough looks from the quarters, (or) enough looks from quarter-quarter-half, (or) enough looks of zone blitz.”
“It hit me way too late… during the first half of the Florida game. Wilton was throwing a dig over the middle about 16 to 18 yards, and he threw it high and it got intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Right there I am standing on the sidelines going, ‘this is what he's done for the last six months…
Sam’s interview with Harbaugh and another with Pep Hamilton “revealed” that run-pass options will definitely be part of the offense. I’m doing an HTTV article on this right now and I’ll spoil the ending to save you some hyperventilation: Michigan already runs them, has been running them, and probably isn’t going to run them that much more than they did against Ohio State (three to five times a game). Harbaugh on at the Friday presser needed a reminder:
You talked to The Michigan Insider [and said] that you were going to implement more RPO, you were looking into it and you were going to implement more RPO. Maybe not overhaul completely, but—
“Who at The Michigan Insider?”
“Oh, okay. [chuckles] We’re studying our offense.”
Al Borges ran RPOs at Michigan too. They work within your offense, but over half the time an announcer is exclaiming “RPO!” it’s probably just a run-of-the-mill play-action pass.