Spring Stuff

Submitted by Brian on April 18th, 2011 at 1:07 PM

So… that happened. As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. Whether your reaction to Saturday was "woo defense" or "ugh offense" depends on your state of mind and may oscillate wildly.

Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. Denard completed 5 of 14 passes for 5 YPA—2008 numbers—and ran six times for 60 yards, averaging 1 YPC after his first attempt. Insert the usual spring caveats and add a bunch more besides for small sample size and an awkward transition, but that is a far cry from the last spring game, and very little of it can be attributed to awesome defense. The QBs sucked on their own.

Here are highlight-type substances (which also feature the Most Legendary Press Conference Ever):

The official site version:

Other vague impressions:

The worst part ever. That guy who sung the anthem. I don't know why events that aren't actual football games are accompanied by some never-was with vibrato Tourette's singing the national anthem. This happened at the Big Chill, too. This is the last drip of Michigan football for five months—give me the band.

Quarterback

Obviously not so good. Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it. Denard missed a couple times but was obviously better. Both performed poorly in the game itself, which fine. Denard doesn't need a more practice on running plays that were beaten into his head last year, sometimes literally. If you're installing new stuff now is the time to see if it works.

HOWEVA, man… it did not seem to work. They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.

Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.

Running Back

Mike Cox was the most impressive, scoring the only legitimate touchdown of the day for the offense—the second was an uncalled offensive PI that outraged Charles Woodson even if he wasn't watching it—on a 68-yard rumble through the middle of the defense. A few runs later he powered through a couple diving arm tackles for a decent gain. Notably, no coach dropped his headset in disgust without even yelling at the guy, which totally happened at last year's fall scrimmage. That was a sign Cox was going to be buried on the bench all year. Light going on? Let's hope so.

Stephen Hopkins seemed like Stephen Hopkins. Everyone else was pretty eh. Hayes and Rawls will have a shot in the fall.

Receivers

With all but five Michigan receptions leaders returning there wasn't much new here, especially since the quarterbacks had such an off day. Hard to show anything when you're chasing Carvin Johnson down instead of vice-versa. A few items:

  • It seems like Drew Dileo has risen to second on the slot depth chart.
  • Odoms is still outside.
  • Moving Ricardo Miller to tight end is a very bad sign for him. Seeing him next to the other TEs is like seeing that tiny third-string FB in the game. He just doesn't have the frame for TE, especially in a manball offense, so… what does that say about his potential future as a WR?
  • The much-touted involvement of the tight ends did not materialize. I don't remember a single catch [Ed-M: Koger got one] and I think they only targeted TEs once or twice. This has been an exceptionally overblown meme anyway. Last year Michigan TEs had 20 catches. In Carr's last year they had 24. When you've got talent you throw to it; Michigan's talent is in the slot.

Michigan needs a couple big receiver recruits this year because the cavalry does not appear to be coming. Jerald Robinson may develop into a decent option but Miller's not even at the spot anymore and DJ Williamson didn't look good in drills or exist in the game; Jeremy Jackson is probably the best of all the receivers brought in last year and his upside is strictly possession.

Offensive Line

It's all but impossible to pick out anything specific live unless you're a savant, which I'm not, so… uh… yeah. Michigan's attempts to run power didn't go so well—a follower tweeted that Michigan's guards were the equivalent of Michigan's kickers when they tried to pull. Again, with a veteran line that's got zone blocking down it's okay to work on the stuff they don't know yet. It seems foolhardy to dump that entirely and we did see a couple examples of Rodriguez's QB stretch, so let's hope the playcalling is less slanted towards the unfamiliar in fall.

The second team OL was walk-on infested with injuries to Molk (played but sparingly) and Lewan (out). They could not block the second-team DL, which contributed to Gardner's issues. Late it seemed like Mattison called off the dogs specifically so Gardner could see what it was like to not have someone breathing down his neck two seconds after the snap.

One guy I did think looked pretty good was Schofield.

Defensive Line

All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.

As for the other guys, RVB was out, leaving Jibreel Black and walk-on Nate Brink alternating at SDE. We know what to expect out of Martin when his ankles exist, and now he's getting moved around on passing downs. Schofield seemed to win his battle with Craig Roh, but Roh made a couple of plays on runs and looks like an honest-to-God DE these days. Kenny Wilkins was the DE who got steamrolled on the Cox TD.

Linebacker

Everyone's talking about Jake Ryan after his pick six and constant pressure of Gardner, but his primary opponent was a redshirt freshman walk-on not very good at blocking people. Big difference between his setup and, say, Campbell taking on the starting guards on the regular. Cam Gordon's in front of him for a reason. Ryan does appear like he'll push for time.

On the whole this unit was surprisingly decent for one starting a guy who just transferred from Hampton after not getting any PT there. Often when I'd watch Campbell he'd get kicked out of the hole way too easily, but as I braced for a big run two linebackers would roar in from the backside and swallow the play. That's what a one-gap defense does as long as you get your "run fits" right, and it seemed like they were vastly improved over last year. I'm extremely leery of the depth when your best alternative to Demens is Marell Evans, but here it seemed like the transition was going smoothly. Caveats apply: could just be the OL not being any good at what they're being asked to do.

FWIW, it was Brandon Herron getting steamrolled on the Cox TD run.

Secondary

With Floyd and Woolfolk out this was also a lot of walk-ons. It's not good for Terrance Talbott to be behind Tony Anderson; Cullen Christian was also behind Anderson but was apparently injured and did not play. This will be some combination of Avery/Floyd/Woolfolk this fall unless Blake Countess shows up extremely ready. Greg Brown showed better than most expected after he spent his senior year of high school at linebacker.

As for safety, Michigan certainly looks good there. Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, and Carvin Johnson are physically reminiscent of NFL safeties. A dollar says that perception doesn't last into the Big Ten season, but in this game they only blew two plays—the Cox TD (overrun by a very confused Robinson) and Denard's game-opening 55-yarder (Johnson was understandably outrun). Oh, and there was that hopeless Gardner bomb that should have been intercepted but ended up a completion. I think that was also Robinson, but I don't remember exactly.

So… slightly encouraging here. While Johnson's interceptions were gifts he came up and put a lick on more than one tailback who had broken to the sideline. Robinson also bombed a couple tailbacks. Furman was in position to break up a couple of Gardner deep balls and could have had an interception or two if Gardner's passes had been a little more accurate. Unfortunately, I am constitutionally incapable of not panicking about safety play even if there is evidence I shouldn't.

Special Teams

Will Hagerup is sophomore Zoltan: still too inconsistent but if he gets hold of one look out. He's going to hit a 70-yard punt this year. He'll also hit some 35-yard dribblers, but he's getting there.

Kickers: aigh. [Ed-M: They say Aslan Matt Wile is on the move.]

Other Video Type Objects

Hoke presser:

Borges presser:

Important bit on Denard:  “in the real world, he'll probably run more than you saw today.”

Elsewhere

Photo galleries abound. AnnArbor.com:

There are also images from the flag football game. Daily article also contains extensive gallery.

Our Helmets Have Wings:

If the spring game is any indication, Mattison is not afraid to bring the heat. One of the criticisms Ravens fans levied at Mattison was that he “didn’t blitz enough.” That is something that is said about just every defensive coordinator ever, so take it for what it’s worth.  Still, the concern that Michigan is going to drop back into a cover-2 and rush four is something that I’ve been somewhat afraid of. I thought the 3-3-5 was going solve that, instead it proved to be the exact opposite of an aggressive, attacking defense.

As OHHW notes, rushing four would actually be an improvement on last year. Ace predicted and wanted ugly. Point Ace. The Big House Blog wonders where Roy Roundtree went. Hoke says Michigan has a "long way to go." Mattison says he "doesn't know if [Johnson] was responsible for" his big plays, which… yeah. Photos and bits from MVictors.

Comments

MI Expat NY

April 18th, 2011 at 4:50 PM ^

Fair enough on Braylon, but I disagree on Desmond.  Desmond was behind two senior WRs who would be drafted that year (McMurtry and Calloway) and was competing with fellow freshman and first round NFL draft pick, Derrick Alexander, for time.  The fact that Desmond contributed at all freshman year was evidence of his potential.  

Regardless, by both players' second years at Michigan, they were studs.  Might Robinson or Jackson prove this year to be a Braylonesque diamond in the rough?  Sure, but at this point, I think the odds are against them being anything other than complimentary pieces.  We need to get an absolute stud or two out of the next class.

UMaD

April 18th, 2011 at 5:27 PM ^

are NFL 1st rounders??  OK, neither do I.

Still, even though RR's system plays many WR, it demphasized their importance. Stonum, Hemingway, Odoms and Roundtree were plenty successful last season.  Grady, Stokes, Jackson, and the other backups were generally not asked to do much other than 'block that guy while Denard runs and don't drop the ball if it comes to you but it probably won't so don't worry'.  It was an offense that usually ran and when it didn't the ball is distributed all around.

I'm fairly confident that some of our freshman could have matched at least 80% of Roundtree's yards if given the same wide-open opportunities that he had.  We don't know good they are in a pro-style offense yet.

FWIW.  Edwards soph year was pretty weak for WR depth. Ron Bellamy, Tyrece Butler, and Calvin Bell were the prominant upperclassmen Braylon was beating out for production. Even he wasn't the player he was as an upperclassmen.

I think there is a need for a WR recruit - you don't go 2 years w/o taking any - but it's not about immediate 2012 contribution.  Roundtree can makes plays, Stokes and Jackson seem adequate pass-catchers, and we have a lot of young players who are showing some flashes of promise (spring hype for Robinson and Dileo has been encouraging).  I just see game-breaking WR as pretty low on the list of things to worry about for Michigan football fans.

 

MI Expat NY

April 19th, 2011 at 10:59 AM ^

I think your point about matching Roundtree's production could just as easily be seen as knock against Roundtree as a reason to believe in some of the young guys.  It is true that Roundtree got a ton of his yards and touchdowns from simply running past safeties that were entirely focused on Denard.  How do you credit that production?  Roundtree's skills or offensive desing?  It seems you are crediting offensive desing (a point that might be hard to debate), so saying that the underclassmen could match 80% of that isn't necessarily an indication of future pro-style offensive success.  

I like Roundtree, but he's a slot receiver without elite physical tools.  In 2012, on the outside, we're looking at a guy that seems to be a dissapointment (Stokes) and a couple 3-star recruits who haven't built up a lot of buzz (Robinson, Jackson and Williamson).  Might that stable of receivers get it done?  Sure.  But I'd feel a hell of a lot better if there was an instant impact freshman joining the ranks in 2012.

michgoblue

April 18th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

Eh, I am not going to get worked up about the fact that these guys have yet to master a whole new offense after like 15 practices.  Let's see how they look after working out and studying the playbook all summer and then going through fall practice.  I would bet that they look better - a lot better.  Denard looked so stiff and appeared to have no comfort in the new offense.  If he has shown anything, it is the ability and willingness to work his ass off to succeed.  I bet he comes into fall camp lightyears ahead of where he is now, and looks damn good in this offense by the time the season comes.

FreddieMercuryHayes

April 18th, 2011 at 2:01 PM ^

I'm actually relieved by the way the spring game went especially after the last two years. Maybe a sloppy spring game will motivate the players some more in the summer and fall. Could help us in the end.

TrppWlbrnID

April 18th, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

this felt very much like a high school first date: everyone was a little awkward, lots of nervous smiles, chatter saying the right things and instead of a furious dry-humping session, the highlight of the evening might have been your elbow brushing a boob pulling out the chair at olive garden, but it might have been her arm.  at the end of the night, you enjoyed yourself as did she and you make plans for future encounters and in the meantime consult your trusted friends for ways to improve the outcome.

MGoKereton

April 18th, 2011 at 2:17 PM ^

Are you insinuating that RR was a furious dry-humping session?

/s

In all seriousness, this might have been the most accurate analogy of the Spring game I've read thus far.  Sure, some of your friends are badgering you about that nice piece of ass you just let go, but deep down in your heart, you just have this feeling that "Hey, she might not be the most beautiful person, but she's strongwilled, independent, and has a bright future." 

 

Don

April 18th, 2011 at 2:24 PM ^

The first part of 2010 was the furious dry-humping; the second part was her parents coming home two hours early to find both of you on their couch; and the bowl game was her father taking out his shotgun while suggesting that you vacate the premises pronto and never touch his daughter again.

TrppWlbrnID

April 18th, 2011 at 2:57 PM ^

2008 was your best friend getting his and telling you about it, constantly,  while you hone your skills, alone, waiting for the right personnel.

2009 was getting the girl to the dance, condom in pocket and her having to be home at ten because she is a little young to be out late with ill intentioned young men.  more honing...

the first half of 2010 was getting her top off, the second half was not being able to figure out that damn bra clasp!  the bowl game, well, that was - "its ok, it happens to everyone"

Firstbase

April 18th, 2011 at 2:11 PM ^

...from Denard's long run to Cox's stood out to me with regard to leg turn-over. Man, Denard can sure pick 'em up and lay 'em down like no one else. 

Also, I'm not sure how you can keep Jake Ryan off the field this Fall. He's looking pretty good.

 

Don

April 18th, 2011 at 2:19 PM ^

whoever the guy is at GBMWGB that Devin Gardner was for sure going to be the starter next fall? Denard didn't look great, but did DG really look like he was significantly better? He didn't on the pick-6.

HAIL 2 VICTORS

April 18th, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

-As much as I want to believe that DR over the course of the summer will feel comfortable in the pocket and come away making the reads he needs to make in this offense-you can see enough from the Spring game this is unlikely.  It is one thing to take the ball from under center like he did in HS however he was never asked to go through progressions and it is my hope that Borges will devise a scheme where DR makes one or two reads and uses his feet. 

-Big Will is better but he can be blocked one on one.  This will not change over a summer although just having hin there will be an improvement-not yet a beast.

-Safety will be a question and a frsutration all year.

-A true Freshman better be our best FG.

-Linebacker is still a question.

-If ANYONE thinks this is a 10 win team you should be slapped.  If Hoke gets 9 wins with a Bowl victory I would take that NOW!

jamiemac

April 18th, 2011 at 2:29 PM ^

So, the last two springs were veritable highlight reels, all of us came in shorts throughout those scrimmages. Of course, it also showed a crappy D that proceeded to get torched even worse by more experienced and settled offenses than ours during the regular season

So, maybe---just maybe people--this more defensive driven spring game isnt a statement in how terrible things are on offense--BWS, for example, says its 2008 all over again, which, lol, there isnt just 1 starter back and entire 2-deep of OL gone--but rather shows that the D is making some strides and might be able to help the team out for a change this year.

I think everything is going to work out in the end

Promote RichRod

April 18th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

and hired a million dollar DC.  Not to mention we have a really soft schedule next year.  I refuse to let my expectations be lowered - DB made a conscious decision to change coaches for the sake of immediate improvement.  I will consider anything less than 9 wins to be a failure (not that it matters, just my personal benchmark based on where I believe the program was headed).  Not Hoke's failure - Brandon's failure.

I wonder if DB was concerned by the Spring Game and now breathes down Hoke's neck at every available opportunity?  Is he attending film sessions?  On the sidelines at all the practices?  Or does the Jerry Jones stuff stop now that we have a MICHIGAN MAN that KNOWS HIS WAY AROUND ANN ARBOR?

uminks

April 19th, 2011 at 1:21 AM ^

It's time to support your new coach!  Given a new coach, new offensive system and a weak defense, I don't see how you can hold BH to 9 or more wins. I'll take 7 wins and a competitive bowl game as a good first year. It will take time to rebuild this defense!

M-Wolverine

April 18th, 2011 at 6:26 PM ^

Actually, all logic points to just the opposite. If he wanted to squeeze the most out of this year, he wouldn't have made any changes. He made the move for what he believed was the long-term good of the program.
<br>
<br>And I'm not sure how ND, MSU, Iowa, Nebraska and OSU is "super soft", but whatever... (Heck, SDS instead of Delaware St/U-Mass sacrifice...)

Blue boy johnson

April 18th, 2011 at 3:21 PM ^

Doesn't really matter how they looked, we'll all be rooting for them this fall come hell or high water and then we'll be back for more in 2013

Edit: I suppose we will be cheering our collective butts off in 2012 as well.

M-Dog

April 18th, 2011 at 8:18 PM ^

Run the Denard Robin-spread between the 20's. 

In the Red Zone, run MANBALL. 

Kick (and make) field goals when either of those two bogs down.

 

uminks

April 19th, 2011 at 1:09 AM ^

Only time will tell how well this offense will play. Over the summer I'm sure the offensive players will all learn the play book. Lets see how practices shape up in August. DROB will probably improve his passing once he and the receivers get their timing down on the routes.

The defense played fairly aggressive. I hope they continue to improve. Who knows the improved play of the defense may have caused the offense more problems compared to the defense from the last years spring game?

 

kurtkirk10

April 19th, 2011 at 10:47 AM ^

The QB's were dreadful... but that was expected. Your question about Gardner... it was NOT coverage. The first play (trips double stick) he scrambled all over the place. Both stick's, the slot and the TE were wide open, the outter most wr on trips got almost level with the CB, so he could've just tossed it up, and the indy side (running a slant, or perhaps a runnaway hitch) was also open. Forget all that, he freaked out for a second because of the (uh... really none) rush. Yet, when he started to flush, the LB's left the checkdown HB wide open... so I count 4 guys WIDE open, with another option to try and make a tough pass. He was also freaked out every drop back... when an edge rusher would come around, all he would need to do is step FORWARD in the pocket and have a huge lane to run/throw, instead he decided multiple times to run toward and back from the edge. For these two to run on called pass plays, they will need to learn to step into the pocket not try to scramble wide; especially with the pocket-protection scheme we saw Satruday. This is the spring game, and some of this stuff is different, but he was in a spread drop-back system in high school, rated the #25 player in the country... he should know this stuff.

Also, about the OL and running Power, the timing was more the issue than the OL not blocking well. Many times it was blocked fine and the G pulled around for a backer, only to be stepped on or passed by the backs. Since they are used to zone, the backs are hitting any opening the find, which can't be done on power. Here the back needs to be patient, settle in behind the guard and make a deision off the puller's angle at the second level. When the back gets in fron the G, he now has 2 unblocked defenders to face (the G's responsibility and the guy who would be unblocked anyway). The backs need to learn patience on power but stick to the quick decisions on zone.

All being said, I think the D's willingness to take on blocks, not attempt to avoid and reach tackle like last year, and hit people is exciting. At the very least Mattison has them playing hard and fast. The O needs some work, but I think they will get there. It needs to become simpler, IMO. Identify the core concepts that Borges really likes, those which Denard does well, and then those which Devin does well. Trim the playbook down for now, make it a simple at the line read of called run/pass and decide based on the box count. At least, this is how I would approach with this level of talent in the backfield.