Spring Stuff, 2015: Offense Comment Count

Brian April 6th, 2015 at 1:43 PM

Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.

Missed it? It's on the tubes.

Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.


The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]

Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.

They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.

To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.

But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!

Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.

Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).

I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…


a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]

…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.

One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.

That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.


a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]

Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.

Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.

Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.

If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.

*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]

The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:

gif via Ace

If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.


L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]

OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.

Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.

A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:


He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]

If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.

Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.

Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.

Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.

There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.

Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.

I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.

BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?





This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.



April 6th, 2015 at 3:14 PM ^

I love Trucker Steve.  He's an awesome dude!


I have a friend who lived in NC and on his way back from the mitten he told me they passed an orage truck with a bunch of Michigan stickers on it (somewhere like West Virginia no less).  I told them instantly I knew who it was!


April 6th, 2015 at 1:57 PM ^

The defense was always going to be ahead of the offense in this game.  Harbaugh now has a some tape to coach from.  He has a better idea of his players' strengths and weaknesses.  I think the competition between Morris and Rudock will be a lot closer than many people here do.  

It may take a game or two before the offense "clicks," but the QB situation is going to be nothing like Threet/Sheridan was.  I think they will be fine by September.

SC Wolverine

April 6th, 2015 at 2:35 PM ^

I watched his tape again and didn't see many bad plays, and there were some pretty good ones. The improvement under Harbaugh looks significant and he will get more development in fall camp. And while that big arm isn't everything, it's actually pretty useful for a quarterback.


April 6th, 2015 at 3:18 PM ^

I'm also not worried that a mixed up team of first, second, and third string guys didn't look all world. The team once again is learning a new offensive scheme and considering that and my previous point, they looked as I expected.

I believe the defense has a lot of depth and is going to be really good. The offense just needs time and reps to get their stuff together.


April 6th, 2015 at 3:51 PM ^

My concern has actually moved more from QB to WRs after this game.  I think Morris can at least be a low percentage type passer who makes teams respect the deep ball - because he can actually throw it.  And Rudock is basically the opposite - high completion, polished version of 5th year senior Alex Malzone.

But the WRs were brutal for both QBs.  The drops were just bad.  Lack of separation - these are not lock down corners aside from Lewis with the potential to be.  If RS FR Brandon Watson is locking you down  - no offense to him - you are in trouble.  Funchess was our "fastest WR" last year and could not separate from Maryland DBs.  It's not good.

And aside from 1 run the RBs were brutal - well Smith was halfway ok.  Green stunk.  Sad.  

Drake Johnson - I pray for your ACL.

STW P. Brabbs

April 6th, 2015 at 4:34 PM ^

I was pleasantly surprised with Morris, who had a few good plays beyond the fades to Darboh that were worth mentioning. He could easily have had 6-7 more completions if his receivers could hang onto the ball. I don't care how hard the ball is coming in - if you're a WR or a TE and the ball hit you in the hands (or the torso, or the helmet), you should've made the catch.

Icehole Woody

April 7th, 2015 at 8:50 AM ^

I'm hoping Morris can earn the starting job given all that he's been through.   He looked better on Saturday than any other time.

Still angy at Hoke for putting Morris in for Denard in that Lincoln corn shit storm in 2011.  After saying that Gardner was taking snaps at QB all Fall.  Don't know what Hoke was thinking.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:11 PM ^

Maybe its just because I've been on this ride before. Full disclosure, I only listened to the game and didn't watch. So my opinion may not be worth much, but...

I know Harbaugh is a great coach, and I know he's had success everywhere he's been....but this all seems too familiar. Talk about great practices, good intensity... then when the product hits the field a bunch of bad plays. 

Can the coaches out there maybe comment and see if they saw better individual execution? And maybe the offense was hampered by being split up? 

Someone please talk me out of my sense of forboding...



The Mad Hatter

April 6th, 2015 at 2:22 PM ^

but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

The offense was hampered by being split up.  Individual execution still wasn't great, but playing 1's and 2's together that had never played together before certainly didn't help.

I think if we had gotten to see the O starters v's the D starters, the D still would have come out on top, and by no small margin.  But it wouldn't have looked nearly as bad as it didn.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:24 PM ^

That does help. 


I forget that Harbaugh's format for a spring game can undo alot of the glue they may have been working on. If it had been 1 O vs 1D and it was this bad, then it might be time to get more nervous. 


April 6th, 2015 at 3:56 PM ^

I think Mad Hatter has some truth to him here.  A split squad offense would still allow individual brilliance to shine at the skill positions.  We dont have mega playmakers at the skill positions right now.  Or if we do they have an ACL recovery ...or are Jake Butt. 

So when you lack elite playmakes you have to instead turn to a very cohesive unit that is better as a whole then its individual parts.  That's the issue this year.   And that sort of thing wont be happening in April. 

Or you can have an elite QB who makes everyone else around him better.  We also don't have that.

I am stunned at the lack of speed in this offense at the skill position based on the recruiting rankings.  The 2013 class of WRs is headed for a total fail (Jones, Dukes, York).  So no one is pushing Darboh and Chesson.  Harris was the one guy with legit speed and has his hamstring issues. 

I know Smith was not a burner but you expected more from Green as the #1 back.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:24 PM ^

this team has never played a game together under this staff, and in fact have only been coached for 6 weeks. I believe the purpose of this format was not to entertain the fans but rather to put the team through the "game day experience" of preparation/performance.  I think in some ways the QB's heads were probably spinning with all the information they had to both retain and apply, as was probably true for the rest of the offense.  I'm betting another big factor behind this is Harbaugh trying to find out a lot about the mental "toughness" of his players.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:34 PM ^

Remember, the O-line used ALOT of walk ons to fill out both units. Furthermore,  taking into account that the teams strongest unit may be the D-line, which is incredibly deep, really forwarned of this impending doom. However, the O-line will be reconstituted to simply a five man unit, which may allow for a much more competent passing and running game.


April 6th, 2015 at 1:59 PM ^

quarterback situation.   I thought that they both looked okay.  Enough so, that by time September gets here and they have the summer and fall camps behind them, we would be okay if either of them were the starter.  With Jake coming, things look even better.

Alex is now where he would normally be in the fall if he had not enrolled early.  I expect him to improve greatly by September 3.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:01 PM ^

Malzone's first INT was a deep ball as well; almost exactly like the ones Shane completed.  And it should have been completed, except Wilson came over and laid a nice hit to jar the ball lose on the falling WR, and it someone ended up in Watson's hand. 

Also, on Shane's INT, I don't think that was unneccsarily hard.  It's a WR at a big time program; just catch the damn ball that hit you in both hands.  That throw found the WR right out of his break, between the corner and safety right after the LB cleared the zone.  There's a tiny bit of time to get that throw there, and Morris did, right at the sticks.  I feel like the hard-throwing thing for Morris is just a crutch now.  Yeah, he needs to learn to take it off some balls on certain routes to let the WR get under it.  But a slant to a tight window?  Just get it there.  If that same thing happened to Brett Farve (also a noted gunsliger of a QB whose NFL WR complained about his velocity) everyone would be on the WR. 

I thought both QBs played better than expected, and I don't think Rudock walks into an easy starting role.  I thought both QBs were let down by pass catchers and a lack of blocking.  I was discouraged at was the lack of downfield passing.  The OL play wasn't as great as I would hope, but eh, it's a mixed unit and I don't think this team can do 10 deep at OL right now.  I think the top 5-6 should be better.  Plus, I think the DL will be legit deep this year.  Oh, and seriously, I think Winovich needs to move back to LB eventually.  Next year the depth there is scary thin and I think he'll make more impact there than as an H-back.  Overall, I wasn't as discouraged as Brian I think.  I just can't use the spring game as a barometer anymore; it always ends up a lot different that I expected on a whole.  But, eh, whatever, it was fun to have UM football on again.

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2015 at 2:06 PM ^

Also of note that UM's WRs probably dropped 4 passes of Morris's that should have been caught. Drops do happen, but you cut that in half and suddenly Morris is 14/24 (58%) and probably upticks to 6.5 YPA, both numbers that are serviceable, particularly when talking about a new offense after 15 practices.

I think Winovich can provide some depth at H-back this season, but he should probably move back next year. I think that was just a really bad play on his part. He probably won't get a ton of minutes, but I think for depth reasons he fits in well as a backup H-back right now.

And the split OLs really hurt Michigan. They just do not have 10 guys on the same page at this point.


April 6th, 2015 at 2:17 PM ^

Yeah, as far as the OL, I remember one run play where it looked like the OL was zoning to the right (Smith was RB), and Glasgow lines up between Kugler and the LG (forgot who it was exactly).  The play start, Kugler goes right to the LB, the gaurd looks to the backside LB, the FB goes looking immediately playside, and no one even touches Glasgow who was slanting playside right into Smith.  Clear communication issues.  But still, I was hoping any configuration would be able to not forget to block the freaking NT in the middle of the D.

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2015 at 2:33 PM ^

Some of it is because of being split up, but some of it just needs to be nailed down regardless of the guys next to you. So that was a bit troubling to see. I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit worried because of the performance that we saw on Saturday, it certianly wasn't a good performance and they need to improve on offense a lot. It's also about right where I expected them to be overall.

Harbaugh wasn't going to wave a magic wand and fix this team in 15 practices. These guys have fundamental issues that need to be worked out and worked out consistently. They'll get there. It won't be pretty at times, but they'll get there. I doubt they are great next year, but I think they can get to being and average unit overall.

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2015 at 2:53 PM ^

They just can't receive coaching instruction from the coaches in a field setting. I described it a bit below, but these guys are likely given a small enough core of things to work on that they can or should be able to improve those things over the summer.

And if we're being honest, all D1 teams find ways to slip in coaching in the summer. Whether from the actual coaching staff going over something behind closed doors, the S&C staff doing something behind closed doors (using towels as footballs), little discussions while passing by in the hall way, oh man, lots of ways. 


April 6th, 2015 at 2:47 PM ^

One more refinement to this comment - When you split your d-line, and have the "one guy screws up each play" problem, it's not going to show up as obviously as having the same problem on the o-line. One guy blows his assignment on the o-line, and..what?.. 80% of plays are just toast, I'd guess...You have an unblocked defender in the backfield that you didn't plan for, and the play ends. There seemed to be a decent amount of that happening, though not as bad as 2013.. (shudder)



April 6th, 2015 at 3:02 PM ^

This is not the first time he's played DB:


It may be the first "game" experience, but comparing a spring game to Bowl practices is a distinction without a difference.

I didn't see any pistol formations during the spring game. I suspect Norfleet will play a much larger role in the offense (anything larger than 0) once the more advanced offensive concepts are installed.

I suspect there is still a dearth of senior leadership - see the claims there are only 14 scholarships available next recruiting class - and Jim is taking advantage of Norfleet's leadership qualities. He can point to him and say, look, that 5' 7" guy is trying every position, whatever it takes to help the team.