Spring Stuff 2014

Submitted by Brian on April 2nd, 2014 at 1:15 PM


[Eric Upchurch]

wait spring football is what again

It's this practice thing that we used to think was super super important because the basketball team was a wet cat and the spring game was in late April. Now we haven't even thought about it because the basketball team is IMPORTANT and also still playing and they've moved the spring game up despite having horrible weather for seemingly the last decade solid.

So… yeah. It is a glimpse into what the football team might be like next year.

So last year's was a constant parade of quotes about how everyone was getting tackled for loss?

Well… no. It is a Pravda-like glimpse weighted by both the program's desire to look good in the absence of actual games and your hope that the next football season will be a fulfilling exercise in fandom.

Consider that hope to be disposed of in a dumpster behind a Five Guys.

All right, then. Let's enter the realm of football with a properly jaundiced eye.

Things To Watch

Will they be a single thing? "Aggression" is the guaranteed defensive watchword every time a coordinator change is made, and "simple" is the equivalent on the offensive side of the ball.

How much of this is standard boilerplate and how much of it is a real problem that Nussmeier is going to solve is pretty much the question for the season. (No, it is not "who is going to start at quarterback?" You are a silly person, person who thinks that.) Lord knows that this site spent most of last year—most of the last three years—blasting Al Borges for not having anything resembling a base offense in his time. Last year's wander from stretch to power to tackle over to inside zone and all things in between was particularly egregious.

It was hardly unprecedented. Michigan never figured out how to run play action off their best play, the inverted veer, never figured out that having mobile quarterbacks run the waggle is just asking them to eat defensive end as soon as they turn around, never figured out what, in fact, they were. Having an identifiable identity is step one towards having one of those offense things.


Let's try to keep me alive this play, gents [Bryan Fuller]

Is the offensive line… tolerable? Extant? Sieve sieve sieve sieve sieve? I can't say the good feelings are pouring out of spring. This is not a world in which claims that true freshman Mason Cole has a great chance to play the most important position on the line…

…can be dismissed as so much spring hogwash. I mean, yeah, it's almost certainly spring hogwash. But given the situation that buzz comes off as a negative thing about people not named Mason Cole as much as it is a positive one about Cole.

Meanwhile Graham Glasgow, the one returning guy who had a job for the entirety of last season, got held out for a while due to an issue that will also see him suspended for The Horror II, and oh good now I'm thinking about what might happen in The Horror II without Michigan's best interior lineman.

Thinking: try not to do it.

Anyway, injuries have held near-sure-LT Erik Magnuson out and forced Michigan to try a parade of guys probably better suited to play guard at that spot. Reading the tea leaves, the most likely starting line for the spring game reads:

  • LT David Dawson
  • LG Kyle Bosch
  • C [Glasgow placeholder]
  • RG Kyle Kalis
  • RT Ben Braden

And in a perfect world that would remain the line through fall camp except for the insertion of Magnuson. When pinged for offensive line data, Hoke was his usual recalcitrant self but did not seem super enthused all the same:

"The physicalness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who has been a great finisher.

"Probably Graham (Glasgow), as much as anybody, in some ways. Ben (Braden) is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be."

Not that they could be near where they need to be a few months after whatever that was.


Here's to this being the "before" picture. [Fuller]

Are Are De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green any diff—. Previous sentence was tackled for loss. Green's been tweeting out pictures of his weight as he strives to get back down to the bowling ball that was the #1 overall tailback in the country to a couple of different services instead of the bowling ball he was last year. Here is a swathe of boilerplate.

"De'Veon's had a very good spring, Derrick's had a better spring than he did in the fall," Hoke said last week. "Justice Hayes has done some really good things, and I'm really proud of him. Both carrying the ball and in the protection game. It'd be nice to get Drake (Johnson) back and put him in the mix."

Chances are it will be hard to tell much what with the offensive line coming together and folks looking confused, but give me one cut from Green that he probably couldn't have managed last year and I'll be happy.

Is Ross Douglas viable at tailback? I kind of think no if only because the Hoke era has expressed a preference for large men running the ball even if they bring little else to the table other than size. Meanwhile, Douglas's bounce to offense comes in the context of Taylor/Countess/Peppers/Lewis/Stribling, a veritable bounty at corner that Douglas didn't figure to crack any time soon. He's also down the depth chart on offense:

"Justice, De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.

"We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB."

This kind of positional uncertainty is never a good sign for a prospect's future. If Douglas was in the mix at corner he'd be at corner. Instead he's fourth at best at tailback and probably fifth when Drake Johnson gets back.

But there is a new offensive coordinator who may do things like see what happens if you give Dennis Norfleet the ball, so you never know.

But that probably means the secondary is loaded, right? At first blush Michigan has more corner depth than I can remember. They return both starters from last year plus a couple of promising freshman who did the really hard part—sticking with your man—last year before wilting at the last minute. And then there's that Jabrill Peppers dude. Douglas's positional vagabondery would not be taking place if Michigan didn't go five deep in solid options at corner.

Wide receiver war. With Devin Funchess entrenched at wide receiver, playing time there is now at a premium. The departure of Jeremy Gallon opens up scads of catches, some of which will go to Funchess and Jehu Chesson. The rest will get spread out. While a number of those will go to Amara Darboh, who was building up steam with his play in practice last year before a season-ending foot injury, Michigan is still being cautious with him. You won't see him on Saturday:

“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” Darboh said Thursday. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”

One gentleman you will see, and possibly see a lot of, is Freddy Canteen. The freshman early enrollee has been this spring's easy winner of the Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award. Almost literally everyone who has gotten practice buzz or been there themselves has come away talking about his quickness and advanced technique. One example of many:

"Running with the ones" is a slightly overrated concept since in the course of a spring or fall practice just about everyone will get their shot on the top team to keep folks motivated and just to see what happens. Even so the Canteen drumbeat has been so consistent that he will be the guy everyone is watching for.

One guy you shouldn't expect anything from: Drake Harris. Harris has been shut down for the rest of spring with a hamstring issue. He had a similar problem for his senior year of high school and at this point it seems like he might be headed for a redshirt with Funchess/Darboh/Chesson/Canteen and last year's three-man class potentially ahead of him on the depth chart.


I'm looking at the man in the mirror. Middle. Whatever. [Fuller]

And then the weird thing. Jake Ryan, middle linebacker. I'm skeptical Ryan will be able to transition to a very different spot that asks him to read and react and then shed responsibly. If he does manage it, it seems like a part of his barbarian nature will be lost. Ryan is a shocking vertical attacker; middle linebackers are not generally tasked with that. When Ryan has been drafted into read and react situations by defensive alignment, it has gone poorly.

But they're going to try it, and spring will be an opportunity to see what's going on with that.

Safeties: we have them? Michigan was clearly dissatisfied with Thomas Gordon midway through last year, which just goes to show that Brady Hoke was in Muncie or San Diego for the decade of Michigan safety play between Marcus Ray and Jordan Kovacs. Great he may not have been; he was pretty much good enough, and when other guys got in the game the step down from pretty much good enough to not was obvious.

Now Gordon is gone and the list of potential replacements is short (inexplicably so given Michigan's apparent need): sophomores Jeremy Clark, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas. Michigan barely has enough dudes to put together a two deep, and there are few candidates to move from corner. Stribling's 176-pound frame would get him run over; ditto Lewis; they're not moving Countess; Taylor's run support is not a strength. That leaves Peppers (moving him away from boundary corner would be a travesty of justice) and redshirt freshman Reon Dawson, who's super super fast but raw and skinny.

So finding someone to play opposite Jarrod Wilson is an important target to hit with few bullets. Here's hoping Clark wins the job with ease; he's got the most experience.

Can a tight end hit something? One of the underrated problems with Michigan's offense a year ago was the tight end spot's total lack of progress. Devin Funchess proved that as a tight end, he was a good wide receiver; more worryingly, AJ Williams was hardly better despite not being, you know, a game changing receiver. Jake Butt was probably the best blocker Michigan had available, and he promptly tore his ACL. Jordan Paskorz left the program.

So. Michigan will hope Williams makes a step forward and turn to two guys coming off redshirt: Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman. They've also converted former SDE Keith Heitzman to that side of the ball. The freshmen are more H-back types than inline ones; Michigan may end up playing them both places just because they have to. Shallman's flirtation with tailback seems over:

Shallman has taken a few reps at running back this spring, but Hoke said he envisions him as a tight end-fullback hybrid.

Given the depth chart that makes sense. I'll be looking for anything resembling a block out of this crew.

Weather. Let's hope it's nice.



April 2nd, 2014 at 1:41 PM ^

Yep yep. Looking forward to returning to our era of bright colored Izod's and cool shades since the future is too bright.

I was interested in the comment about Jarrod Wilson... if Dymonte grabbed that job and never let go it would be a positive as well.    Also Brian seems a bit daunted by JMFR move - I am of the mind whatever JMFR wants to succeed at, he will find a way to do so!  Motors and drive to succeed like that man possesses are rare.  I also think Gedeon has a great chance to grab a large chunk of plays by Big 10 season if the last few games of last year were any indication.  Gedeon and JMFR side by side would appear to be a very pleasing thing.


April 2nd, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

on the JMFR move.  I think teams spent way too much time running AWAY from JMFR last year - effectively taking him out of the play.  Putting him in the middle along with some 4-3 over protection might keep him clean enough to make plays sideline to sideline.  We shall see.



April 2nd, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

I think 10-12 is a very low number, but this is quite true. Borges was a bit too smart for his own good--he developed a different play for every conceivable scenario. There is a good reason the offense often executed very poorly.

And we all pretty much knew this. We'll see how all of this translates into improvement up front. I hope it can't get worse.


April 2nd, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

Keeping it simple.  Hmmm.  So last year was complex?  Why was it that i, and the opponent Michigan was playing, could call 50% plus plays Michigan ran before the ball was snapped?

Looking at our offensive line, i, just as everyone else, can see how 'in trouble' we are going to be this year again.  HOWEVER, also looking at this line, man - in 2 years its going to be such a fantastic line.  A guy like Damien Harris would rush for 2k behind the line we will field - but how do we cope with this years line?  Can we fast forward?


April 2nd, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

But what I think Kalis means is you never knew which of the 100 plays would be called next.  There were a ton of different formations, and a ton of different plays.

You are referring to opposing defensive coordinators or players knowing if we were going to pass or run based on what formations we lined up in.


April 2nd, 2014 at 4:16 PM ^

And I know it's obvious to say that, but it's true.  Pulling takes time to learn if you're not used to it, as an example.  You pull in practice and your footwork is all cocked up.  Then you get that right and your weight is all off on the turn (though the two are related).  Then you get yourself squared up and you crush the LB and your coaches go crazy.  Next time in you rep it, and there's a different LB out there and he doesn't take you on straight-up, he stutter steps around you and you fall fumbling forward and look like a tool and your coaches just kill you.  Through all these things you learn, and you learn how to handle different scenarios.  And when you get enough successful reps, you have confidence going into a game.  If you get out-talented or out-strength'd, you can get in the way and make a block because you know how to maneuver and get your body right.  That's technique.

And I think that's what Kalis was talking about.  Did they practice the play just called?  Sure.  Did they run it enough that I know what to do against multiple fronts or with this new guy next to me that I have any idea what's going to happen?  No.  Can I ask myself another rhetorical question?  Yes.  Will I?  No.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:00 PM ^

Our OL will be a major concern BUT if Lindsay transfers from Alabama we potentially have

  • Senior center
  • Glasgow to one guard

and suddenly we have 2 upperclassmen woo hoo

  • Kalis / Bosch fighting for other guard, the loser goes to backup (one assumes Kalis wins)
  • and cross fingers on tackles, Magnuson unfort is missing reps and upper body weight training.  Braden fits the part physically but will have the learning curve.

It is not ideal but there would at least be some mix of experience if Mr Lindsay joins and you can push Glasgow back to a guard spot.

2015 offense should be IMO our best in a few years, as we will be young/experienced at once.   Everywhere.  Will rely on Shane taking over the reigns but every other position will finally be ready to go.  This year's offense on the other hand might be the youngest we ever fielded in the modern era.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:06 PM ^

Complex does not imply that the plays were hard to guess. You can run 100% of the time and have a complex offense if it takes perfect execution and years of practice to run the play effectively. Unfortunately, at the college level, complex offenses don't tend to be successful because you rarely have the combination of talent and experience needed to run them.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:15 PM ^


Worse, they installed new packages every week. Not just a counter play to existing action, but entirely new formations and base plays with counters. Plays with different spacing, different angles, different routes... all of it had to be learned week-to-week.

That it was difficult for the team to learn the new plays in 20 hours of practice while also refining their execution on the existing playbook is evident.


April 2nd, 2014 at 1:47 PM ^

It'll be interesting to see how they use the running backs in the fall.  Hoke wants to be able to pound the ball in the running game ala Alabama.  Alabama usually rotates 3 running backs into games.  Whether that is the Saban way and Nuss was just following his marching orders, we don't know yet.  If that is something that Nuss brings to UM and Hoke is on board with it, the 4th string running back is just an injury away from possibly seeing the field. 

Now some cavaets probably apply in that Alabama has been churning out solid olines and running backs for a few years now so when you're consistently pounding the other team for 4, 5, 8 yds a pop it's really nice to throw some fresh legs in the backfield.  Also, there didn't seem to be much of a drop off between the Alabama running backs when they were subbed in and out.  I'm sure having a really good oline opening up gaping holes helps in that regard.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:02 PM ^

I'm hoping Dymonte Thomas wins the starting safety spot beside Jarrod Wilson. If Clark wins it, then Thomas has guys in front of him with 2 years of eligibility left. Not what I would've expected for a recruit and athlete like him.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:14 PM ^

Here is my top five things for a succesful 2014 season:

1. OL that at least holds up.

2. OL that limits negative plays.

3. OL that doesn't get Gardner killed.

4. OL that isn't a personnel clusterfuck.

5. Uhhh....I can't really think of anything else.

I feel that this team loaded to semi-loaded with talent but I'm still a little afraid that the O line might be a year behind.



April 2nd, 2014 at 2:27 PM ^

Should not be asking too much for the defense to lead this team.  Aside from the tackles and one safety there is experience everywhere now with 4 stars coming out of the pores.  I have no idea what that K-State game was but I am trying to erase it out of our memory.   OSU and Indiana were likewise things that should not happen this year.

Look at MSU last year - their offense was a complete train wreck early but their dominant defense kept them in low scoring games while their offense figured it out.  In no way shape or form do I think our defense is akin to MSU's 2013 version but our LB core should be top 1-2 in the Big 10 (Morgan might be the 4th LB by Big 10 play), we return 2 corners with 2 years of experience which is rare (and experienced youth behind with Stribling/Lewis), we have 1 experienced safety, and our DEs are a good mix of experience and talent. 

As for our "trouble areas":  If Pipkins is back you have a pretty good inside group of he, Henry, and Wormley...  - the latter 2 being the 2 guys on the line who popped last year... and Charlton at his weight could rotate btw DE to DT.  He played some DT vs OSU I noticed.    Maybe Poggi steps up too. No shortage of candidates to excel there in a 2 deep of 4 players!

So basically you have 2 holes on this defense -  1 safety and "the DTs" (I'd argue only 1 DT really).  Every other position has returning experience.  This  should be a top 3 defense in the league with the talent and experience mix.  No team is going to start all seniors and juniors on a unit.  Our defense is full of HS stars who have had college coaching for 2-4 years and plenty of game experience ....it needs to come in and kick down some doors while the offense gets a chance to gel.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

It's become increasingly hard to transition from a basketball program that seemingly overachieves yearly to a football team that does that opposite. My emotions are not pleased with this portion of the roller coaster. How much longer until our offensive line isn't primarily underclassmen? I thought math/logic/time-continuum would solve that naturally.


April 2nd, 2014 at 2:42 PM ^

In 2011 the team overachieved in a Sugar Bowl winning 11-2 team. The next year they were playing well until their generational offensive talent went down. They still managed to come within a play of beating a top ten South Carolina team. Last years team greatly underachieved. But this has not been going on as long as most on this blog lament. The Rich Rod teams achieved to their sub standard talent and attrition levels.

As for how long it takes for the OL to become upperclassmen, look at the depth chart and see that in 1-2 yrs when you have more than 2 Senior and Junior OL, we will finally have put the attrition behind us.

"Never forget" is a constant refrain regarding our porous secondary of a few years ago. I would argue the problems on the OL are as bad. They've been masked by two NFL tackles, but the lack of serviceable upperclassmen to join them have regressed the offense. This isn't me lamenting, just reading the depth chart.


April 2nd, 2014 at 3:06 PM ^

We have a long wait until the OL group becomes deep with Juniors/Seniors.

I think until then all we can hope for is that a different offensive system will somehow make it easier for them to run block. I personally hope this will make a huge difference. If not, then we are in for at least one more season of pain.


April 2nd, 2014 at 3:26 PM ^

Yep, no news out there since the 23rd.  From this story he is going to take his sweet time.   We have 2 things in our favor - him knowing the coach / terminology and gaping holes on the OL begging for upperclassmen to fill.  But he has one year only and if he finds another team with a similar open hole but far less questions on the offense as a whole with better prospects of BCS type games that surely would be enticing to anyone.

"I've received a lot of offers from schools all over the country and I am going to take my time in making my decision," Lindsay said via text earlier in the week.


April 2nd, 2014 at 3:21 PM ^

What I've been saying about Shallman. As a TE he could be a force, but as a RB he's too slow-footed to succeed at this level.


April 2nd, 2014 at 10:08 PM ^

I feel bad for Shallman because it seems he was lied to by the coaching staff, who asserted that he was being recruited to run the ball.  Maybe if our coaches shared your discerning eye for speed and talent, they could have told him where they projected him.  As it stands, he commited as a tailback, was recruited over for Smith and Green, redshirted while they got carries, and is now in line for a career of blocking for them.  I wouldn't begrudge him for transferring to a school that plans on using him the way he prefers (assuming that fullback is not the preferred position for the #6 in-state recruit).


April 3rd, 2014 at 12:23 AM ^

It doesn't require out-of-the-ordinary discernment to see that he wasn't very quick carrying the ball in HS, nor was he a monster bowling ball who couldn't be brought down. He was just bigger than most of the kids he was playing against.

That doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty of talent, it just means that his future at the collegiate level is probably not carrying the ball as a standard RB. He wouldn't be the first kid who ends up playing a different position in college than what he was recruited at out of HS.


April 3rd, 2014 at 2:50 PM ^

I'd be surprised if Shallman leaves the program.  Unless he envisions himself as a RB / FB in the NFL, I think he will stand pat and soak up the experience of being on his favorite football team while getting an excellent education.

I don't get the sense that Wyatt is the type of kid who feels like his life will be a bust if he doesn't go to the NFL.  Kids that come out of Detroit Catholic Central are usually well rounded with good heads on their shoulders.  He will succeed in life regardless of the position he plays in college football.

Keep in mind that something like 1% of Division 1 football players will get drafted in the NFL, and not all of them will actually play.


April 2nd, 2014 at 3:26 PM ^

He was getting a lotta heat until Borges was let go, and then the refrain started up in earnest about how the offense was too complicated for the young OL.

Now that Nuss is supposedly installing a much simpler offense, an OL that's as inept as last year's isn't going to be good for job security for Darrell, and that extends to Hoke as well. Having Jerry Hanlon be a consultant wouldn't be a bad idea.


April 2nd, 2014 at 3:51 PM ^

So last year "you never knew what was going to be called"....apparently unless you were an opposing defense.  They knew exactly what was going to be called.