Spring Stuff, 2016: Feelingsball and Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 4th, 2016 at 1:22 PM

First, a little feelingsball

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[Eric Upchurch]

Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.

It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.

A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.

I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.

This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.

This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.

*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]

Highlights

[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]

Quarterback

I am now convinced it's a real competition. Wilton Speight only had six attempts, but he completed five of them, confidently. I also had the benefit of observing the Ford Field practice, where nobody seemed clearly ahead of the pack at quarterback. Another piece of evidence in favor of a real competition: no quarterback got a quick you're-a-starter hook. John O'Korn is not a lock.

That said, I wouldn't read too much into the stats. O'Korn drew the short straw when it came to OL, WR, and opposing DBs. He took off after one or two reads a ton. At first I was pleased since the result of those plays was generally good; then I was annoyed since the sheer frequency of his scrambles was indicative of a guy who wasn't seeing the field; then I re-checked those wide receivers and the amount of pressure O'Korn was getting. Scrambling a lot was the move.

Given the situation he did relatively well with it, despite the 6/14 line. Many of those passes were at walk-ons, quarterbacks, and, in one memorable incident, an offensive lineman.

Speight does seem to have taken a meaningful step forward. When he entered the Minnesota game he felt a lot like Russell Bellomy, wobbling iffy passes that made it seem like Michigan would never move the ball. Speight started overturning that expectation with the last drive of that game and he continued that through the spring. He does not have a huge arm; his increased comfort with the offense has made that less obvious. I think his mechanics have improved as well, as the characteristic wobble from his passes in the Minnesota game was absent this spring.

It sounds like this is a classic choice between upside and low variance. Webb had this take from Michigan's Florida practices:

John O'Korn showed the most consistent deep ball touch all the quarterbacks over the four days in Florida. However, during the portion of practice that the media was present for he also appeared to have more interceptions. He tried to squeeze the ball in spots at times, threw late at others. To be clear, he didn’t perform poorly.  He was just a little inconsistent in the short/intermediate game.

It does seem down to Speight and O'Korn. Shane Morris and Alex Malzone had a series or two each as the game progressed. That playing time was soundly in the realm of backups, and it's telling that when O'Korn's team was faced with a do-or-die drive in the fourth quarter he emerged from the bench to lead them to a not-quite-tying touchdown. Morris played wide receiver on that drive.

That final drive is a useful item to compare and contrast with: last year it was Malzone tapped to run the last-ditch two minute drill. Malzone threw four passes short of the sticks and that was it; O'Korn drove for a touchdown. While nobody looked great, this position group's overall performance was night and day from last year at this time. The Harbaugh effect is kicking in.

With Morris moonlighting at wide receiver and Malzone seemingly behind, if anyone's going to challenge the two leaders it'll probably be freshman Brandon Peters. Peters looks uncannily smooth for a gentleman just out of high school. He dropped a lovely touch pass to Zach Gentry in limited time; it's already hard to distinguish his play from anyone else on the roster. He's likely to cool his heels this year; I haven't seen anything that would derail the considerable hype train he's already got behind him. Lorenz:

- Michigan is excited about Brandon Peters. Jim Harbaugh could barely hold it in when talking to reporters, and the reviews so far have been raves. A lot of the talk about Peters in high school was that his release was a half second slow and that sometimes he was almost too calm when in the pocket. That's a beyond easy to correct thing, and the fact that poise and calm is the thing he already possesses has the staff pumped up about what Peters can do.

The QB battle in 2018 is going to be bonkers.

Running back

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[Upchurch]

Ty Isaac is the main story amongst folks who actually touched the ball, but don't overlook De'Veon Smith getting treated like he's Butt or Lewis. Smith only got a few carries at Ford Field and zero in the spring game, and he was healthy. Harbaugh stated he was both the first guy in line for all drills and the "clear cut starter" at tailback; nevermind that fullback noise coming from me.

Back to Isaac: he's down ten or fifteen pounds and had an eye-opening spring game. The shot above was the tail end of a long run on which he added an extra ten at the end by bursting past Jabrill Peppers, which I didn't know was possible. His cuts were decisive; he finally looked like the kind of athlete you should be if you're going to be a five-star recruit.

Perhaps more importantly, he is getting right with Harbaugh. From Webb's interview:

"(I've noticed) a harder rougher guy. He just does. There's never an excuse.  Just harder. You watch him just get rougher and get harder right before your eyes.  I'm really pleased. Really pleased the way he is doing that now. Where some of the outside runs are something he is really good at, taking the responsibility of being a guy that run between the guards... run between the tackles... stick it up in there... lower his shoulder pads when he crosses the line of scrimmage and start embracing that and knowing, 'I've got to get a little better at that."

Every couple weeks last year there were rumors that Isaac and Harbaugh had a crappy relationship and Isaac might even end up transferring again. Those are in the rear view mirror, knock on wood.

Isaac's spring production was a little too bounce-heavy to expect all of it to translate to actual games, but his cuts were decisive and correct, his speed remarkable, and his ball security good. Along with Drake Johnson, who looks like Drake Johnson, Michigan looks to have a steady upperclass trio at tailback.

Given that I don't expect a huge role for other guys. Webb noted that there was a "noticeable gap" between the upperclassmen and the gents chasing them, especially in pass protection. Kareem Walker did truck poor damn Ken Sloss on one of his carries; other than that the young guys didn't have opportunities to do much. I'd guess there's a redshirt waiting for at least one of them.

Blocky/Catchy

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just look at this monster [Upchurch]

Fullback is all but certain to be a combination of Henri Poggi and Khalid Hill. Bobby Henderson will probably get some time too; when Michigan wanted to run the fullback in this game he seemed like the best option. I'm guessing Hill gets the plurality of playing time since he's the right shape and size for the spot and he brings receiving chops that are unusual for the position. His one-handed stab of a Speight pass that was too far in front of him turned an incompletion into six yards.

Hill was used relatively sparsely last year with AJ Williams having a personal renaissance, but when he got the opportunity to block somebody he did a decent job at it. He's kind of an up and down player at this point—he misses a number of blocks by lunging, but when he gets it right he is forceful.

Tight end… hoo boy. Jake Butt returns. He needs as much further discussion as Jourdan Lewis; he's an NFL player who has decided that he wants to play for a team one last time. Past Butt there is Ian Bunting, who sources close to the program project will have a breakout year, and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., who sources close to MGoBlog authors project will replace Dennis Norfleet as the site's possibly-irrational fave-rave.

MGoBlog authors would protest the "possibly irrational" section characterization and point to Wheatley's various impressive plays this spring, including that one-handed catch that turned into a seventy yard touchdown you've already heard all about. In the spring game Wheatley made a couple catches underneath and further showed off his blocking skills. I have no doubt he has a ways to go to be elite, but early returns are encouraging. I focused on him on a few different plays; I caught him blowing Rueben Jones five yards off the ball and stalemating Chris Wormley in pass protection. Drevno on Wheatley:

"He's been a tight end and that's his position," Drevno said. "It's always nice to have a big body there, he's a big body guy. He can move people off the ball and I always think he can go out and run a pattern. He can work a guy, those little short routes by the tight end is kind of playing the boards in basketball. Big target, put the ball over here and you're running with it and go. It's hard, you want a blocking tight end and they're hard to find."

He had one drop-type substance on a short route, but that was understandable. The quarterback put it outside the frame of his body, which gave a linebacker in coverage an opportunity to rake the ball out. Wheatley almost pinned it to his thigh but couldn't quite manage it. All other throws he's seen have been catches. I think he fills the AJ Williams role capably this year and blows up in 2017.

Zach Gentry had another nice catch after impressing at Ford Field, and while nobody expects him to play much this year the potential there is obvious. Drevno:

"Zach Gentry is a big, tall guy. A big target, he reminds me of a tight end, Evan Moore, at Stanford who played there. He's that type of guy who you could split him out, put him down and he's a really good athlete. I really like Zach, he's really taken the bull by the horns and really liking the position change and really being a team guy that wants the best for the team."

He provides even more catching radius than Butt does. Blocking is likely to be iffy since dude is so tall, but all 6'8" guys have to do is get in the way most of the time.

Michigan's talked up freshman Sean McKeon as a guy who could see time early; I didn't see too much from him during the two practices. Given what's in front of McKeon I'd redshirt him.

Wide Receivers

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[Upchurch]

With Chesson and Darboh out Michigan was down to Drake Harris, Grant Perry, Ahmir Mitchell, and walk-ons. Those guys were largely outclassed by starting DBs and largely outclassed the backups.

Harris did have a nice eight-yard comeback route he executed against Jeremy Clark; Clark would return the favor and then some by dominating a fade route late in the first half. Harris's 30-yard catch was on a converted WR walk-on occupying this year's Dennis Norfleet Memorial "WTF am I doing?" spot, but it was still a nice adjustment to a ball in the air.

Even so, Harris is still really skinny. O'Korn didn't seem to zero in on him like you might expect when the other options usually include a quarterback. Given chatter we'll cover later in this section it feels like Harris has fallen behind classmate Moe Ways, and there's a lot of competition arriving this fall. Don't write him off, of course. He retains the talent that made him a coveted recruit. Fisch:

"Drake Harris has had a really good last two days, had his best day (Tuesday), really making some plays as he's got amazing jumping ability and he's shown that."

That's good news. Better news is that other than a bout with norovirus, Harris has been present and correct for the duration of spring—hopefully the hamstring issues are in the past.

With Harris kind of iffy it was Grant Perry who made the best impression, making three catches on balls from Speight on which the precision of his routes got him separation. Perry had a breakout game in the bowl and looks set to build on that as a sophomore. He should be a chain-mover in the mold of Drew Dileo or Martavious Odoms.

Moe Ways was not at either practice I got to take in thanks to a foot injury, but down in Florida he impressed. Sam Webb:

Maurice Ways made his presence felt.  Whether it was the jump ball he caught over Jourdan Lewis… or the backside nine route that he didn’t loaf on because the play was unlikely to come to him and resulted in a touchdown… he looked ready to seriously compete for a prime rotation spot.

As a recruit Ways was regarded a lot like Ahmir Mitchell is: big body, good athlete, questionable WR skills. Ways's hands were a particular bugaboo that prevented him from rising up the rankings. In that context this from Jedd Fisch is the best possible thing to hear about him:

"Mo Ways has improved a lot. I'm not sure I can remember a drop so far (from him) this spring. I think Mo Ways leads us with the least amount of drops."

His foot injury is unfortunate for the your-lying-eyes test, but it sounds like he was emerging into a clear #3 outside wide receiver. Webb mentioned him two other times as a spring riser:

Mo has been having a really good spring. Route running has improved, hands have been consistent, and his basketball ability (i.e. jump balls) has been showing up. More encouraging has been the ability he has shown as a downfield threat.

A version of Ways with excellent hands is a tantalizing prospect indeed; a reasonable goal this year is to establish himself as a clear heir apparent with a dozen or so catches, one of them an eye-popper.

Mitchell is more or less what his scouting reports indicated: an athlete in search of a position. I saw a couple of drops at Ford Field, and when he's popped up in practice reports it's usually to either mention another drop or some lack of technique. On the other hand, he looks like he could snap Harris in half, and moves very well. He is a quintessential boom-or-bust prospect.

It'll be a year or two before he can translate his physical skills into production. That hole at safety does beckon, meanwhile.

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[Bryan Fuller]

Those guys are all backups, give or take your opinion on whether a slot receiver is a starter in a Harbauffense. (Survey says: nah.) Chesson and Darboh are the guys to really focus on when we talk about Michigan's 2016 fortunes, and while Chesson was out Amara Darboh made as much hay as possible. Praise for him has been universal and effusive. Let's start with Harbaugh himself:

"Amara Darboh has really elevated his game.  I'll say this to Jehu as well.  I thought Jehu was a little better receiver than Amara Darboh was last season. They were close... really close. But now, Amara has surged a bit ahead of Jehu and he has done that by working this spring like he hasn't played a down of football at Michigan. He has been a fantastic worker the entire spring."

If you're cynical you could chalk that up to motivation or Harbaugh maniacal focus on guys who play every snap of every practice. Various insider takes have backed up Harbaugh, though. Lorenz relates that "literally every person we've asked" has said that Darboh was having an excellent spring. One of Webb's main takeaways from Michigan's Florida practices was that Darboh had been "simply stellar":

He got open against everyone including Jourdan Lewis at times. O'Korn found Darboh on a 70 post and would’ve connected the senior pass catcher on another bomb had he not hung a pass down the sideline after Darboh had beaten Stribling by two-steps on a stutter & go.  Precision route running got him free on slants and digs all day.

Darboh beat Lewis for at touchdown at Ford Field as well. He also got dominated on a similar route; I'll take 50/50 against Jourdan Lewis any day of the week. Darboh's never seemed like much of a deep threat, which is fine, but like you know if he can add that I'm not complaining. At the very least he should be a great #2 WR.

Offensive Line

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Much hinges on Newsome [Fuller]

This section is going to be short and unsatisfying because it's hard to tell much of anything when the starting OL is spread across two teams and the backups aren't great. We do have a few items we can infer. One is that Grant Newsome is doing well enough to forestall shuffling. Mason Cole has played center the whole spring. Michigan seems more or less set on their starting five.

You can read that one of two ways. One: hooray consistency. Two: boo depth.

I think it's some of both. Cole drew the massively hyped Bryan Mone for much of the spring game, and Mone was quiet. He got bashed off the line on one of Isaac's big runs, in fact. Various projections, including this space's, that Cole would be an A+ center appear to be accurate. There was a lot of 1-vs-1s at the Ford Field practice and Michigan's OL looked functional and cohesive. Ben Braden has come in for praise various places as he develops into a very legit Big Ten guard. Anyone who watched Braden last year could see that process themselves—remember the aftermath of the Utah game? Braden got wrecked. By the end of the year he was fending off first-round picks on Florida's DL.

Webb actually asserted that at point this spring you could "legitimately say the offense won the day," which… when was the last time you heard that? Probably when Rich was around, and Michigan's defense was literally its worst ever. This defense will not be Michigan's worst ever. So that's not bad to hear. Michigan's offensive line is finally in a place where they've got a bunch of seniors and more than one player who should be quite good.

On the other hand, Newsome has struggled significantly in pass protection. While it's possible that Taco Charlton is going to blow up, the frequency with which he's getting past Newsome still alarms. Assertions that Chase Winovich is also causing Newsome trouble further that alarm. It's possible that if there was a sixth or seventh offensive lineman who was a real threat they would push through and send Cole back to left tackle, where he was pretty good as a true sophomore.

Lorenz did hear that Patrick Kugler was "pushing", but info on him has been mixed. David Dawson has been out with injury, and it doesn't seem like anyone else currently on the roster is anywhere near the starters.  If there is an injury Michigan may cross their fingers and fling Ben Bredeson out there a la Cole two years ago.

The starting offensive line should be at least okay but there's very little capacity to absorb an injury.

Comments

m_go_T

April 4th, 2016 at 1:46 PM ^

O-line may be the only concern heading into fall camp.  I for one am not too worried though, provided Kugler and Dawson are service level replacements.  In this scenario we can absorb a couple of injuries and still put out a pretty good line.  Also considering we will get blocking help from Wheatley, Hill, and maybe Asiasi, I thiink we should hold up pretty well.  

As for Tight End, I described it to my buddy on Friday as "an embarrassment of riches."  To think this time last year we thought we didn't have enough to field a Harbaugh offense.  Chris Clark (thankfully) and Isaac Nauta (not thankfully) are going to regret their decisions big time. 

Everyone Murders

April 4th, 2016 at 1:56 PM ^

While offensive line is certainly something to watch moving forward, I'd be reluctant to draw conclusions based on the Sptring Game (to the extent that's driving your comment).  O-Line is the one position group that most acts as a unit.

When you have a players' draft that breaks up that unit, hilarity may ensue.  But it doesn't mean the starting O-Line will be porous.

On my part, I'm still concerned about the LB corps - especially on the depth side of the equation.

m_go_T

April 4th, 2016 at 2:11 PM ^

By reports about the second string OL.  Looks like the first string will be decent at the very least.  I just worry if we have a couple of injuries, then who steps up.  Kugler and Dawson could do a lot just because of the flexibility of Cole.  Would be great if we had a couple of younger Olinemen champing at the bit.  Overall, I'd say if our biggest concern comping out of Spring Ball on offense is our 7th and 8th linemen (I think Kugler will be ok), then we are looking pretty good.

Lanknows

April 4th, 2016 at 2:21 PM ^

The OL was not good last year (solid to good at pass blocking, awful at run blocking), lost their best player, and flipped their 2nd best player to a replace him. 

  • Their presumed LT is struggling in pass-blocking, which is kind of a big deal for a starting LT.  He's young and so we can expect improvement, but it's a worry.
  • Kugler has gotten only sparse praise and hasn't sniffed meaningfuly playing time (which is pretty disappointing for recruiting-hyped, supposedly college-ready, coach's son entering his senior year.)
  • Their C is a good linemen, but lack of snapping experience matters, especially in shotgun.
  • Kalis has consistently missed his assignments during games and reportedly in practice, to the point that it was rumored he wouldn't be invited back for year 5 - which is insane given the lack of depth. At best he's the OL's Joe Bolden - someone who works really hard but struggles to make an impact when it counts.
  • Dawson hasn't stayed healthy and hasn't ever pushed Kalis.
  • Michigan coaches tried hard to land a grad transfer that wasn't even a starter on disappointing Texas last year, but was assumed to immediately become one at Michigan.
  • Michigan coaches are openly pining for a true freshman to take on a meaningful role.  Nothing is more unsettling than that.

It's great that Cole is settling in, Braden appears to be stepping up, and Magnuson is flat-out reliable, but Michigan only 3 guys that can be labelled above average Big Ten starters.

One injury to anyone and Michigan is in some trouble.

One of those 3 legit starters and Michigan is scrambling.

If two starters are hurt in Oct-Nov, it's a potentially season-derailing situation.

That's not my definition of OK.  The starting lineup is OK perhaps but the depth is a real weakness unless somebody currently planning their prom saves the day.

 

dragonchild

April 4th, 2016 at 2:51 PM ^

If you look at last spring, the D-line was so far ahead of the O-line it was ugly.  People chalked a lot of that to split-squad and the O-line learning a new system, of course.  I'm not disputing either, but that logic applies now.  In year 2, the O-lines still struggled but did well enough to the tune of four TDs in a short game.  Split squad, against D-linemen who are no joke in any conference.

It's the same guys, and because it's the same guys the same questions are still in play -- who's the LT, can they run block, etc.  Harbaugh is always looking for improvement.  But hey, I actually saw the ball move forward for long drives this time against quality defenders.  The 2nd string OL is still 2nd string OL, and a lot of the chunk plays were the ball carriers Making Plays, but overall the O-line depth seems vastly improved from last season in that the 2nd string may not be a complete disaster.

Lanknows

April 4th, 2016 at 3:20 PM ^

Glasgow, Wormley, and Gary didn't play, Henry is gone and Hurst had an injury.  Other than Charlton, there wasn't a sure-fire starter playing, and even he's not a true lock. Our DL is excellent, and that's an important consideration for context, but the concerns for the OL are longstanding. The depth of the DL serves in stark contrast to the lack of it on the OL.

I think you're reading too much into the spring game production. It was an opportunity to ease off the depth worries at OL - one that was not seized. 

I don't know how the OL depth can seem improved. Last year we had Newsome on the bench - this year we do not.  Another freshman could step forward like he did, but again, that is dependant on a true freshman being game-ready.  A low-probability event.

I think Dawson is a critical player for this team. It's a shame he is hurt.

dragonchild

April 4th, 2016 at 4:43 PM ^

Wormley played, though not the whole game.  Also, Charlton and Godin.

I didn't mean to imply that the 2nd string is all roses and rainbows, if that's how it sounded.  My point is that split squad was painful to watch last spring, and this season it was significantly less painful, and yes, that is encouraging.  Yes the D-line was depleted by design, but the problem two years ago was outright busts.  When someone blocks the wrong guy or even air, it doesn't really matter how good the D-line is, but FWIW, we did have some pretty good dudes out there.  That there were actually inside runs for positive yardage at all, in April, split squad, as damning with faint praise as that sounds, is encouraging.

"I don't know how the OL depth can seem improved. Last year we had Newsome on the bench - this year we do not."

By "depth" I mean it's the same guys plus another year of Drevno and 4-hour practices.  If someone from the 2nd string has to step up it won't be good, but after seeing that I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that it'll be an unmitigated disaster.  They are trying very hard to mitigate, and while they would've liked for a grad transfer or true freshman to show up, I doubt Drevno is treating the entire 2nd unit as a lost cause.  Offensive linemen are typically late bloomers anyway.

Lanknows

April 4th, 2016 at 5:17 PM ^

I don't think you can get too excited about the OL play being "less painful" when Glasgow, Henry, Wormley, and Ojemudia aren't around to deliver pain.  But more importantly, they were 1 month into a new scheme. --  Of course the OL should look more coherent a year later.

I don't know that that will translate to the backup OL being ready to go. Most of the backups are so young that they won't have played for anyone besides Harbaugh and are unaffected by the transition. The late-bloomer phenomenon It doesn't matter much for this team because the only non-freshman Michigan has in reserve are Kugler and Dawson.  Kugler doesn't seem to be there. I'm holding out hope Dawson is but hope is all it is.

The starters being better is something that I agree is likely. But their baseline (last year) was not good, and that has nothing to do with the bench being better or worse.

There's a lot of variance between the optimistic "not good" and perssimistic "unmitigated disaster" - but neither of those is "OK".  I think the starters can reach "OK", but I think if we have to dip into the bench that results COULD be anywhere within the range you are talking about. It depends on who the injured guy is and when the injury occurs.  This OL's upside is OK. Downside is far below that.

Put another way, if Kugler isn't ready (as it appears to look) -- what do you do if Cole or Newsome breaks something in mid October and is out for 6 weeks

bronxblue

April 4th, 2016 at 2:39 PM ^

Definitely an issue, but I also think that a coherent offensive philosophy can cover up some of those issues.  The line looked bad against Utah and got more comfortable as the year progressed, and in some ways offensive line is as much just slowing down the guys in front of you as it is the more complex blocking and play design elements.  My sense is that UM won't have too many opponents that have the athletes to disrupt them, and so even competency across the front should be more than enough early on.

Lanknows

April 4th, 2016 at 4:51 PM ^

  • Utah was the #10 FEI D and Michigan got 2.6 YPC against them.  17 points for the offense on the road.
  • Ohio State was the #9 FEI D and Michigan got 2.3 YPC. 13 points for the offense at home.

 

I agree you can chalk up a lot of the OL struggles last year to coaching turnover, scheme. familiarity, etc. However, I don't think the implication that Harbaugh didn't have a "coherent offensive philosophy" is valid.  The gameplan against Utah was sound. It was some missed QB-WR connections (Ints and missed downfield plays) that cost Michigan that game (i.e., execution).

I fully expect the starting OL group to be improved this season. Drevno Year 2, 3 seniors, and 80% of the starters back -- but the backups are a major concern. You have to remember the OL was fully healthy all year and that may not (probably is not likely to) be repeated.  An injury could undo all the potential for improvement unless a backup or two make major strides forward.

It's true that early part of the schedule is easier and doesn't have a Utah on it, but I'm not sure the improvement from September to mid October is going to be as dramatic as say the Rudock-Chesson connection was last year.

The second half of the 2016 schedule is a lot tougher than last year's.  That's where we will see if the OL has improved and perhaps more importantly, if the starters are still healthy.

 

Lanknows

April 4th, 2016 at 6:06 PM ^

I think we are going to be undefeated heading into the OSU game, so I'm not trying to be a hater.

This D is poised to be a top 5 unit, our starting WR/TE trio is the best we've had in at least a decade (maybe ever), our RB is a fantastic fit for the scheme, and our QB is either going to be a talented gunslinger or a reliable game-manager. This team is STACKED.

There are only 3 possible weaknesses on this team:

1. Linebackers

2. OL

3. Special teams

We don't need to sugarcoat those few spots where there are questions. Michigan ranked 107th in the country in the only OL stat that isn't affected by RBs - opportunity rate.  That's bad.  That's bad even after a dominant performance against Florida, which tells you how awful it was during the regular season.

I think our starting OL will be better, but the assumed improvement is precarious because there is no depth. Hoke did not recruit or develop OL.  It's ironic that everyone bitched about Rodriguez screwing Hoke in this regard (which was mostly untrue) but now when there actually is a problem no one cares to mention it (because Harbaugh is so dang good) as the situation has been mitigated pretty well.

Again, the fact that the staff is seeking grad transfers and wanting true freshman to play says it all.

Ali G Bomaye

April 4th, 2016 at 2:24 PM ^

I hope we use some of the tactics used by the Patriots recently - keeping the same multi-TE personnel package on the field for a few plays in a row, but varying the formations from tight-packed running formations to spread formations using split TEs. There's no way a defense can cover Butt and Bunting in space using LBs.  But if they're in the box, there's no way the defense can stop a power run playing DBs as linebackers.

Hail-Storm

April 4th, 2016 at 2:00 PM ^

is the first thing I said when marveling at the photo, only to scroll down and read the same exact thing as a caption. Great minds think alike caption guy.

1VaBlue1

April 4th, 2016 at 2:17 PM ^

I don't see why you shouldn't be negged for this.  And I couldn't care less about such things as negging or posing...

Hoke didn't just apologize for the stake - he apoligized for taking his team into a hostile stadium and actually 'trying' to win a game against a rival.  He apologized for having players that wanted to win.  He apologized for trying to amp his team up to play a big game by using symbolism.

I applaud Bolden for doing something his coach would have stopped.  For being smart enough to keep it to himself until they were out on the field.  Yeah, they got beat (okay, they got SMACKED), but at least one player went out to win.  And that is more than I can say for Hoke...

Of all the stuff Hoke brought UM football, the one single thing that makes me turn away in utter disgust is that apology.

Mr Miggle

April 4th, 2016 at 3:28 PM ^

It's really inconceivable. But neither would Meyer or Dantonio. I could make a long list of names. What does that do for the morale of your team, when you publicly chastise a leader of your team for trying to fire up his teammates? Bolden did so in a completely harmless way, only offending someone who has a perpetual chip on his shoulder and a few Pollyannas who look for any pretense to show righteous indignation.

You make a statement by planting a stake and you take the lumps that come with it when you lose. If you don't like it, you can let the players know, but you don't undercut them in public and look like a weak little *****.

Bodogblog

April 5th, 2016 at 3:25 AM ^

Bolden did not go out to win. He slammed a stake in the ground in what I saw as a silly attempt at bravado. He then got blocked and mowed down for the entire game. Didn't back it up in any sense, couldn't even rally his team to stop a late run-play-every-down drive to end it. Hoke apologizing was a further embarassment, but less so than Bolden's original act.

Don

April 5th, 2016 at 1:00 PM ^

Hoke didn't need to apologize for it, but the fact that one of his players deluded himself into thinking that lame histrionics on the field had the slightest relation to actually being good was sad.

It's laughable that you're defending planting the stupid stake as "wanting to win." The whole stake episode was characteristic of Hoke's tenure—meaningless bluster that did exactly jack squat when it came to actually being competitive.

 

Space Coyote

April 4th, 2016 at 2:40 PM ^

I think the apologizing gets brought up too often and is way more of a talking point than it should be, but I also think there was absolutely nothing to apologize for.

Say what you will about the actual event, "using symbolism to pump up the team is stupid", "if you're going to do it back it up", etc., but Hoke had nothing to apolize for there. They got stomped, that was bad. They should back up their actions with their play, and they didn't. But slamming a tent stake into the ground isn't disrespectful, especially when you go out and tear up the field with spikes a few minutes later. A ton of teams use symbolism, a ton of teams do very similar acts, MSU even planted their flag into opponent's fields multiple times. It's not disrespectful and nothing to apologize for.

So on that one, Hoke should have just said it happened, and that's it. Talk about not performing on the field during the game, not executing, and all the other coach speak that he used, and that's fine. But there was no reason to apologize for that. I think it gets brought up as sort of a bow tie for Hoke's tenure. It's the last impression people really had of Hoke before seeing him go. It was a culmination of events where anything that could be perceived as negative was and blown up on top of that. In the scheme of things, it's not really a huge deal. But he still had nothing to apologize for.

MC5-95

April 4th, 2016 at 2:07 PM ^

I know that Speight or O'Korn will probably be the starter this fall, but damn Peters looked like the real deal. (Caveats that he was probably going against back up DBs.) Wonder what it would take for Harbaugh to pull the trigger and start a true freshman at QB... Probably an injury to either Speight or O'Korn for starters. (Remembering that's how Chad Henne got to start as a true freshman in 2004.)

Wolfman

April 4th, 2016 at 3:57 PM ^

to start Chad. Learned a long time ago - and it's a difficult thing to do - is the most reliable information is that of the players. The difficulty, of course, comes with how closely guarded they are in freedom of speech.

If one had access to preseason thoughts - and I did on a limited basis - it was Steve Breaston would become exactly what he became. Those same players making that claim, and they did so in a manner that disrespect of a teammate could not even be considered. However, their statements regarding the QBs left no doubt as to Chad not having a close second place challenger as to  ability. Of course to derail a starter, or even an experienced backup at this position is almost unheard or. I don't think Rickly L. faced that either and obviously Matt could in no way be viewed as an experienced backup.

On a daily basis, they  would give the same answers. "Chad can simply do what others cannot.  He is able to make throws no one else can. Where there is obvious effort by others, Chad is able to do so in an effortless manner. If primary  receiver is covered, Chad will make a play no one else would even try. He can throw from hash mark to has mark, losing absolutely no velocity on the pass." Their praise was effusive and unguarded.

Of course players make statements coaches wouldn't make for obvious reasons, but they do so honestly and if there is any debate, real or imagined, as to which players actually possess greater talent, they leave no doubt. As I said, it's not often - and this year it's back to normal in that regard - but in that particular preseason, access to players, for some reason, was as loosely guarded as I have ever witnessed.

Their observations and evaluations were not surprising either. Matt did come in as a highly regarded 4* IIRC. But Chad came from a part of the country that, for some reason, has produced more high caliber qbs per capita than any  other. It is never a surprise that whenever a 5* qb emerges from that particular area, their play almost always proves the gurus  right. 3

evenyoubrutus

April 4th, 2016 at 2:09 PM ^

Maybe if Peters wins the BACKUP job, and does not redshirt, that would be an ideal scenario for Mcaffery to redshirt and be two years behind Peters.  When BP is taken first overall after the 2018 season, Mcaffery will step in with three years of eligibility remaining.

CoverZero

April 4th, 2016 at 3:45 PM ^

Those are my thought (except I see Peters here until 2019).  I am in the minority, but I am not impressed with what I see from O'Korn.  He is a good athlete, however he does not go through his reads, gets impatient and is not all that accurate of a thrower.

Harbaugh and his staff know what they have in Brandon Peters.  They will let him develop and keep pushing him, but as soon as he is ready... I predict that he will vault O'Korn in to the #2 spot.

Harbaugh has said many times that redshirts do not mean much to him.  When a player is ready to play....he will play.

Peters has far more upside than O'Korn and after a summer of throwing 7 on 7 and getting even more comfortable with the offense, he will push O'Korn big time.

I predict Peters in the #2 spot by the end of the year.  He will play in some games.

People predicting "red shirt' have to look at the situation for what it truly is at QB and balance that vs. Peters NFL type potential.  He is the most gifted QB on the roster and its not close.

As you say... putting 2 years between he and McCaffrey is another good thing assuming McCaffrey redshirts, which he probably will because the QB rotation will be stacked for 17.

Space Coyote

April 4th, 2016 at 3:57 PM ^

That doesn't mean he will or won't be the backup or even starting as a RS FR, but I don't think he's heads and shoulders above the other QBs in the group, so I doubt he gets thrown in as a true FR, where he certainly won't be above them immediately simply because he is a true FR and isn't getting the reps the other guys are yet. It'll take him at least a year to get down the leadership and chemistry aspects, in my opinion.

AC1997

April 4th, 2016 at 2:12 PM ^

Brian - 

You said that O'Korn got the worst OL.....but yet he had three starters.  Is that a concern?  

 

As for Braden, I'm pretty sure he played OT for the game and seemed decent.  

 

I thought Runyan and Ulizio looked solid considering they've never played before.  While the depth is shaky, Cole's positional flexibility and the idea that Braden could handle OT allows them to shuffle some things if anyone from the Dawson, Newsome, Kugler, Runyan, Ulizio group does well.  

dragonchild

April 4th, 2016 at 2:37 PM ^

O-line play was inconsistent but way better than last spring.  The QBs saw a lot of pressure and the non-Isaac RBs had tough goings all day, but there was forward movement and 4 TDs scored in a short game despite both split squad O-lines going up against B1G quality starter grade D-lines, which is saying something.  I think that thing is that in Year 2 anno Drevno, the 2nd-string D-line vs. O-line gap has narrowed from D-line >>>> O-line to D-line >> O-line.  Which is encouraging because I think Harbaughffense last season got VERY lucky avoiding major injury.  We can't always count on that; we need O-line depth.

Both squads seemed to really pick on the linebackers when they needed a play.  Seems Brown's defense is rather complex and a work in progress.  The biggest busts of the day all had someone running through the traffic on mesh/rub routes through the middle of the field (and surprisingly good protection I may add).

Blue team tried to make the most of Jack Wangler and he was rather alarmingly Just a Guy (did OK but missed a few tough passes that Darboh would've snagged), but I think the WR depth issues are somewhat inflated because Chesson's expected to be back and Darboh was working on a new selfie route, so we were seeing 4th stringers and Shane Morris out there.  I don't expect to see Wangler play without a four TD lead; not only do we expect to have Chesson back by fall, we have a few TEs who can play WR in a pinch.

dragonchild

April 4th, 2016 at 2:59 PM ^

That was just my head caught up in the game.  He was getting thrown at a lot so I thought, "If this is the guy behind Chesson then we're in trouble."  It's afterward I remembered Chesson is expected to be back, Darboh basically had the day off, a lot of freshmen hadn't arrived yet and it's split squad so he's way, way down the depth chart. . . in a TE-heavy offense.

I did wish he'd made the most of his chances, though.  While it's unlikely he'll see real PT even if he had a perfect day, if he's on the squad he's going through the same 4-hour practices as the starters so you want to see him do well.

24-12

April 4th, 2016 at 2:41 PM ^

My favorite moment was Harbaugh sitting on the bench at halftime with no one around,  The look of pure joy on his face was worth a thousand words.  Look at the tape.  You will be stoked.