Spring Stuff, 2017: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 17th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

The following folks did not play and are thus unmentioned: Drake Harris, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, Ian Bunting, JaRaymond Hall.

In addition, a few guys got the you're-a-starter hook: Mason Cole, Chris Evans, and Kekoa Crawford were only out there briefly.

A little more feelingsball


HI [Bryan Fuller]

That was fun! I enjoyed it. The weather was terrific and the game was sort of an actual one insofar as OL depth permitted it and there was football to be observed and conclusions to be drawn from that football. At no point did anyone put on a little mesh hat so they could run an hour of kickoff drills.

Jim Harbaugh may be completely unpredictable in many things—he did not talk to reporters after the spring game, oddly—but he's made Michigan football very fun. I appreciated this on Saturday, sitting outside and watching the actual football. So, it seems, did many other people: I've usually just driven to the Crisler parking lot and parked. This would have been impossible on Saturday. The announced attendance (57,000 and change) was a totally made up number but it seemed plausible. What a nice change.




[Patrick Barron]

So... this might be a thing. If you recall, last year we entered the spring game expecting John O'Korn to be the starter; there had been some mumbles that Wilton Speight was right in the thick of it that most people discounted because of previous mumbles about how great O'Korn looked in practice. The spring game was an inflection point:

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.

On Saturday Speight didn't get a you're-a-starter hook. He got a you-threw-a-101-yard-pick-six hook. John O'Korn took over for his team's final two drives, driving for touchdowns on both. Meanwhile, Brandon Peters did this:

One pick six marred an otherwise confident and accurate performance. The two best throws in there are probably the ones to Nate Schoenle, about whom more in a second. The first was a third and long conversion at 4:30 that looks a lot like the guy we saw on Peters's high school tape—unusually, I mean that as a compliment. He's got his guy, he knows it, and he tosses an accurate, catchable ball. Peters's ability to vary speeds is uncanny for a young quarterback, and it's good to see some of that is translating to college.

The second is the Schoenle wheel route to open the winning drive, which is just... dang, man. That's a hell of a throw, and Peters was making it most of the day despite a strong and swirling wind. (The earlier fade down the sideline that Jordan Glasgow got over the top on felt like it had been pushed by that wind.)

Peters moved decisively to get out of the pocket when necessary, scrambled for a touchdown, did not throw into coverage much, and was accurate on all but a couple throws. He looked very plausible at the same time Speight struggled.

As always you do not want to read too much into a disjointed, pressure-laden spring game. Unlike last year's QB competition this one has an incumbent. It's always hard to dislodge a guy who has a season under his belt, especially a guy who was reasonably good last year. Speight finished third in the league in passer rating and #2, Perry Hills, had 18 attempts a game. He's still the starter, probably. The spring game added "probably" to that sentence.

Running back


easy for Isaac [Eric Upchurch]

Chris Evans got three carries and then sat for the day, in case you were wondering if he was a sure-fire starter. That's the same playing time De'Veon Smith got last year. Evans looked as shifty as he did a year ago but may have added some extra YAC power; hard to tell in that brief glimpse.

So instead of that let me tell you a thing about Evans: he coaches a local kids flag football team. This in and of itself is odd and very, very Harbaugh. An acquaintance of mine relates that his kid is in this flag football league, and that his game was at 7:15 in the morning, with a potential second game at 9:30 if his kids' team won. Chris Evans is at this game. Not because his team is playing—his team is the one waiting for the winner at 9:30. Chris Evans is... taking notes? Watching intently? Is Chris Evans, starting Michigan running back, scouting a flag football game at 7 in the morning? Yes. Yes he is.

One other Evans-related note: while he didn't participate in much of it, I'd be surprised if the frequent five-wide shotgun looks weren't related to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Hopefully Michigan gets on the good side of that McCray-Dalvin Cook go route matchup this year.

In Evans's absence we got a lot of Karan Higdon (12 carries to lead everyone), Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, and walk-ons. Higdon and Isaac looked like Higdon and Isaac; both were the beneficiaries of the second-team DTs getting consistently gashed. I continue to like Higdon's combination of sharp cuts and low pad level and think he'll a productive #2. Isaac looks fine, but his touchdown was untouched and he didn't make a ton on his own. Walker didn't get a ton of opportunity he did have another run like he did last year where he bounced off some tackles to gain additional yards.

Your walk-on du jour here is Tru Wilson, who was quick through the hole and very small. Very little chance he breaks through the five scholarship guys who will be on campus this fall.

Wide Receiver and Tight End


Black can go get it [Eric Upchurch]

The wide receivers are going to be young but that might not matter. Kekoa Crawford got a quick hook and can be penciled in as a starter. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black certainly look the part already. DPJ was held relatively in check by Keith Washington, and I'm already like "impressive job, Keith Washington" when he's been on campus for two years and DPJ has been on campus for two months.

Black played the part of Guy Opposite Dennis Norfleet on O'Korn's touchdown drives, running the same fade over and over against Benjamin St-Juste for completions and flags. Black is bouncy, 6'4", and adjusts well to balls in the air. He's all right. Meanwhile, Brandon Brown got a shot of Nico Collins veritably looming on the sidelines.

xOhSI7s (1)

The guy behind him to the right is 6'2" Brad Hawkins. Collins is huge. Collins, Black, DPJ, and Hawkins are a veritable fleet of catching-radius guys who can go get contested balls and make quarterbacks right. That is one recruiting class. Also they got Oliver Martin. I'd managed to forget how ridiculous this WR class was.

In the slot, Eddie McDoom was doing McDoom things before an apparently ankle injury knocked him out. On replay that injury didn't seem too bad: there was no plant or twist. Ankle injuries generally don't keep guys out months and months, so he's probably going to be fine this year. Here's hoping, because I don't want to disappoint this guy.

Curse everything in the world that prevents us from selling that.

Also in the slot was walk-on Nate Schoenle, who was on the receiving end of Peters's best throws of the day. One was a tough diving catch on the game-winning drive. At 6'2" Schoenle gives you downfield ability a lot of slots lack and Peters is clearly comfortable with him; I mentioned him as a guy generating buzz before the game and he'll generate more of it now. Nate Johnson didn't get a target, IIRC. Schoenle looks like a real threat for slot PT.

[UPDATE: Johnson did make a catch, fumbling as he fought for extra yardage.]

So with all that it's getting late early for Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Harris did not participate, and for a guy with his injury history facing down this wide receiver class that is tough. Ways did play but not until the second half when the rotation was getting deep indeed. Two of his plays were questionable, as well. He ran a four yard route on third and five; he messed up his footwork so badly on a back-shoulder fade that both of his feet were out of bounds on a potential touchdown. (Ambry Thomas got hit with a flag for holding him, FWIW.)


Eubanks looks the part now [Patrick Barron]

At tight end Nick Eubanks appears to have made a move. He looks like a tight end now, which is step one. He was also targeted frequently. Michigan only found middling success doing so; the sheer number of balls he saw implies he's been making plays this spring. Here he only almost made a play, dropping a tough fade route from Peters after executing a textbook Manningham slow-and-extend to wall off the safety he'd gotten over the top of.

As a recruit Eubanks was regarded as a crazy athlete who needed seasoning. He's probably a year away from delivering on that athleticism; he certainly looks the part now.

Zach Gentry, meanwhile, both does and does not. Does he look like a tight end? No.


no [Bryan Fuller]

Does he look like Jeff Samardadjzijaadfh? Kind of. Except tall!

That's a busted coverage and not exactly black-belt receivering but just look at the guy and his long loping strides and ability to shake enough to put not-Kovacs on his butt. Spring reports frequently noted that Gentry fielded a ton of targets, and sure if I'm a quarterback I'll look for the guy who puts Jake Butt's catching radius to shame. I feel a Funchess move coming on.

Ty Wheatley Jr is Michigan's sole remaining Kaiju, and that makes me sad. When I checked out his blocking that made me happy, though. He had another of his catches where he looks implausibly fast for a large man, and with Asiasi's departure he's going to get a ton of PT; he's Michigan's top blocking TE by a mile now and he brings a two-way ability that could be lethal. Just has to develop a bit.

Offensive line


if Runyan could be a real RT candidate that would be nice [Bryan Fuller]

The spring game format seemed designed to keep the defensive line from annihilating everyone and succeed in that regard. The starting line, or close to it, was kept together; the backups mostly got Michigan's second-team DL. And while those second-team DTs are huge alarm bells, that's another post.

This is for this post: I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of defenders swallowing a tailback two yards in the backfield. Setting aside five yards lost when Kareem Walker unwisely decided to reverse field, Michigan backs were TFLed for a total of six yards. That means that the OL was getting its assignments right virtually the whole day. I don't expect that when one OL is playing deep into the regular season; for two to mostly get it right in spring, with all the rotation they've been doing, is impressive. Steve Lorenz keeps bringing up the Ewing Theory in relation to the OL departures...

3. I'm sticking with my Ewing Theory belief on the offensive line's potential in 2017. Ace Anbender at MGoBlog picked out former PWO Andrew Vastardis as a guy who stood out today and I'm inclined to agree. Vastardis was one of three or four PWOs last cycle the staff believed would, not could, be a difference maker sooner rather than later. He's not going to start this season, but he was a good indicator that a lot of guys have improved this off-season. Cesar Ruiz is ready. The pieces still need to be shuffled out, mainly at right tackle, but holes were paved consistently today.

...and I can see that. If Michigan can field a line that doesn't have a guy who runs by first-level defenders on the regular that would be good for their YPC and my blood pressure.

Your starter-ish line was: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with Cesar Ruiz and Andrew Vastardis from the second unit impressing both myself and Ace. Given the context...

...we shouldn't anoint the guy as Glasgow 4.0 just yet. Straight up dominating some bad players is a good first step, and he did that. Most of Michigan's big runs came when the second-team DL got caved in by the second-team OL.

Also in walk-ons I'd love to get lucky on: ominously-named Greg Robinson has plausible size at 6'6" 290, per a yet-to-be-updated roster, and played a bunch at left tackle. He got blown up on a couple runs and did not seem nearly as fluid as Vastardis.

Ruiz got some run at guard in the second half, FWIW, but Bredeson never kicked out to tackle. These things seem to be contradictory since the OL with Ruiz at guard necessarily has Bredeson at RT. Michigan either 1) thinks Bredeson can't play tackle, 2) thinks he needs all the time at guard he can get to get ready for the season, or 3) thinks a guy on the roster is a capable RT. That latter could be Bushell-Beatty, who we did not see because of injury, or Runyan. Your author is guessing that #2 is the truthiest here, after Bredeson's understandably error-prone freshman year.

Blitz pickups were pretty bad; unclear if that was a tailback issue or a QB issue or an OL issue. Probably some of all three. Blitz pickups in spring against Don Brown and squat missile dude Devin Bush were always going to be a problem. They are a problem. It would only be notable if they were not a problem.


I Like Burgers

April 17th, 2017 at 1:00 PM ^

Man, I also forgot how good that WR class was.  Was all excited to see DPJ and Black in the spring game, and completely forgot we also have Nico and Martin coming in the fall who are equally as exciting as DPJ and Black.

I also occasionally forget we have Solomon coming in the fall as well.

Gold star for you, Jim Harbaugh.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:14 PM ^

What's great is that there's so much talent there that even if a couple of guys don't develop like we think they should, other guys are likely to step up. 

I am far too confident in our receiver corps next year. Losing two seniors should not leave one feeling this way, but here we are.

I Like Burgers

April 17th, 2017 at 1:32 PM ^

I really can't remember a time where before the season even starts, I was far more excited for the subsequent season than I was the approaching season.  And not in a 2008, its Rich Rod year 1, let's just get this one out of the way kind of way.  As long as the young talent develops and nothing crazy happens, 2018 should be a fun, fun season.  Especially on offense.

Ghost of Fritz…

April 17th, 2017 at 3:32 PM ^

It may turn out that the new starters will be better technical football players than the guys who graduated.  Better in terms of learning the techniques and assignments faster, and learning how to play as a unit faster. 

Kalis sometimes looked awesome.   But he made way to many mental errors.  Very inconsistent.  One minute he looked like the 5 star we had imagined,  The next he was wiffing on obvious blocking assignments.

It reamins possible that the replacements this year (Ruiz, for example) will learn faster, won't be so error prone, more conistent and more technically sound (at least by mid-October), etc. 

If so, the line will be better, except possibly against teams with incredible d-line players that cause match-up problems that can't be handled by a true or RS freshman.



April 17th, 2017 at 3:12 PM ^

Not gonna lie, I was damn excited for 2008.  More than any other year before or since.

We were absolutely be-deviled by the spread in 2007 and earlier, and now we were going to be coached by the guy that arguably invented it.

It felt like getting a new sports car your senior year in high school after driving around in your dad's old sedan the whole time before then.  

Some cool next-level shit is about to happen.

That's not how it turned out, but we didn't know it then.



April 17th, 2017 at 7:39 PM ^

Also remember this: Chris Evans was arguably the most productive freshman last year, and is in line to be one of the best offensive players on the team as a sophomore, and he was a generic 3.5 star who nobody expected to be a go-to guy. Just imagine who else could be in line to break out from 16 and 17.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:11 PM ^

The game showed that other than Mone and Hurst, we are very thin at DT right now

Solomon must be a lock in the 2-deep, and I wouldn't be surprised if Hudson got there at some point this year, too. Not sure Carl Myers/Ron Johnson/Lawrence Marshall will beat either of them out. I'd also be shocked if Luiji Vilain doesn't jump a guy like Rueben Jones in the summer.

EDIT: Forgot about Dwumfour, who we need healthy by summer. 


April 17th, 2017 at 1:12 PM ^

The Peters/Speight issue is going to light up most of the discussion. About Peters:

He nailed several throws that weren't all that difficult, such as the Gentry TD. I'm less impressed than others by the second Schoenle catch, which forced Schoenle to cut inside toward both the man behind him and the safety coming across when a sideline dime had a lot of space. Are we sure that was a good pass? I am wide open to hearing a defense of the ball placement here, but my lying amateur eyes tell me that it wasn't a great throw.

Another critique: That scramble and throwback to Crawford (it was Crawford, wasn't it? Brian says he got yanked early but that was #1 out there) looked good but I felt like Peters bolted out of the pocket too soon.

OTOH, he had some nice throws that were flat misplayed by the receivers. The back-shoulder fade Brian used to criticize Ways was in the perfect spot, and that sideline throw where Eubanks had two guys on him and couldn't bring it in was so perfectly placed I can't remember the last time I saw a pass hit that spot so well. 

About Speight: 

Nothing encouraging from Saturday. He was under a lot of pressure. He also missed some easy passes and also totally miffed on some slightly harder ones (there was a scramble-and-throw that went out of bounds when he had DPJ open for 1st-and-goal some 15 feet short of where his pass landed). So I'm open to arguments against him; unfortunately, the majority of what I've seen on the board so far has been feelingsball stuff like "I think he has hit his ceiling" and stuff completely ignoring the context of last year's offense, rather than actual analysis.

What we don't have any knowledge of right now is how well each of these two know the playbook and read defenses. And those things matter a lot.


April 17th, 2017 at 5:48 PM ^

It's not that bad, actually a good play.  It's probably the last read on that play and Speight does a good job to be aware and find him.  Mone is right in his chest so he could only get so much on the ball, and McKeon let it float way too long.  Run under it and take off. 

Ron Utah

April 17th, 2017 at 1:27 PM ^

On Peters:

Everyone gets excited about the back-up QB, and, in this case, for good reason.  However, he is far from perfect and I would be surprised (less so now) if he jumped Speight this year.  He needs to continue to clean-up his reads, build his poise, and refine his technique.  But he's much closer to Speight than I expected, and that is a good thing for everyone.  Competition for starting QB will make both players better.

That said, the long throw on the game-winning drive was excellent because of the conditions.  While it did take Schoenle inside a bit, it made for a much easier catch and more sure completion given the high winds.  In those conditions, that is a throw an NFL coach would be grateful for; you can't just launch your fades when the wind is blowing like that.

On Speight:

Agree--nothing encouraging, but many of his incompletions were good throwaways, and he was under so much pressure that it's hard to even grade him.  Both INTs were obviously bad decisions, but his poise and escapability still looked good and he kept his eyes right.

However, the conditions are much worse for Wilton than Brandon.  Speight's arm talent is limited and he simply cannot overcome high winds like Peters can.  That does not mean he will not/should not start, but it's concerning.


April 17th, 2017 at 8:59 PM ^

I had similar thoughts regarding Speight and the wind - he's not a strong arm, so that's going to hurt. And a lot of his "bad misses" came with a dude in his face altering the throw (or at least the play timing).


April 17th, 2017 at 1:50 PM ^

definitely can improve and he will need to.  What is concerning for me is I saw no improvement from last year, which has lead me to comment about his ceiling.  He has the coaches to help him, but it's possible this kid is reaching his ceiling. Everyone has a ceiling some are just higher then others. 

I know the kid is a competitor and will work his butt off all summer, competition makes everyone better. I'm excited by what I saw from Peters as he is younger and to think of what improvements he can also make leaves me excited as to what he can bring. Sure there is stuff to clean up on and mistakes he needs to fix, but I think he could really take off and be a top flight QB.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:38 PM ^

chemistry with your WRs is really key to QB success. Speight is virtually starting over with these young guys, so we all need to chill-out and see who emerges from the summer work as the "chemistry" leader. Last year that was Speight who worked his butt off in the summer and it showed in camp when he won the job. If Peters develops that chemistry ahead of Speight, fall camp will be a true competition. Speight needs to work as hard as last summer, which I think the spring game was a wakeup call to deliver that outcome.

No matter what it is great news for the future, though, that Peters is pushing Speight as just a redshirt frosh.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:44 PM ^

by the second throw to Schoenle, That was a 40 yard strike with a tough wind, yea he had to come inside a little bit, but there was not much room over the top on the sideline. That ball is only going to be caught by the WR and got it in there before help came over the top. That was a nice throw insuring a big gain.

Saying he left the pocket early is a little nit picky I think. Maybe he did bolt a little early, but tough to tell what he was seeing down field. It doesn't look like there was anyone open and instead of just throwing it away he extened it with his feet and made a nice throw back against his body. 

Sure Gentry was wide open, but that was his #1 read and saw it with his pre snap read. He still looked straight at the FS when he dropped back to hold him then threw a nice pass to Gentry. More to it then just making a pass.

I thought his play action was near text book. I felt he only made 3 poor passes. Sure there is stuff to work on and I am sure he will learn from Saturday and continue to improve, but wow there was a lot to be excited about by his play and many of his passes.

WNY in Savannah

April 17th, 2017 at 6:56 PM ^

Speight has done a lot of good things, but my problem with his play has always been that he is not consistently accurate.  Too many times last season, receivers were open and Speight would just miss them.  It wasn't just a "throwing under pressure" issue.  An accurate passer makes such a big difference.  Can Speight improve his accuracy?  I am not sure that he can.  Saturday's game certainly didn't show improvement in this area.

Peters, on the other hand, has looked like a much more accurate passer, even in high school.  Obviously, passiing skill is not the entirety of QB play.  But I would love to see Michigan's starter in the fall be a consistently accurate passer.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:15 PM ^

Can't wait till the defense section. Bush looked like a FOOTBALL PLAYER. Glasgow, Husdon, Kinnel. Looked great! 

The CBs looked good. More often than not, they were covering too close to the WRs (hence the PI calls). Even St. Juste. He got picked on and beat by black a few times. But he was right there the whole time. A little tweaking and he will be just as good as any of them.


April 17th, 2017 at 2:06 PM ^

Don't forget Washington. Dude was all over the field and looked significantly bigger with great athleticism. I wouldn't be surprised if he jumps Watson before week 1. Either way, it's great seeing depth development in the secondary. Ambry Thomas looked good too but he appears way skinnier than I thought he would be for a safety/corner hybrid.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

12 carries for 81 yards and 2 scores. 3 paragraphs on Evans and flag football and a couple lines on Higdon with a backhanded attempt to undermind the performance lol. Generally I avoid politics but this deserves to be called out lol. There is a true RB competition and if it's based on merit....missed assignments and true even opportunity....the OP will have to continue to get creative in trying to create some distance between Chris and Karan. The Blue Team featured the 2nd team Oline while the Maize had the 1st team front 7. Stop marginalizing and give credit where it's due. There is much contrast between what is said on some of these entties and what the players and coachea are actually saying. As someone who had lengthy conversations with both Jay Harbaugh and Tyrone Wheatley....the RB position is an open one and there are a few great options there. Chris being one of them. Karan being at minimum an equal one. Stop with the marginalization. 12 carries for 81 and 2 tds is solid production. Just like averaging 5.9 ypc with 6 TDS on 72 carries was last year while not being "featured". Chris is a phenomenal player...but this marginalizing of Karan is going to either stop or get called out from here forward.


April 17th, 2017 at 1:28 PM ^

I know you're close to Karan, so naturally you have a personal preference here, but this complaint is not a good look at all. There isn't some mystery conspiracy to un-person Higdon on behalf of Evans. Evans got the same level of PT that Smith got last season, and we saw how Smith was featured last fall. It's not unreasonable to conclude that Evans will occupy a similar role this fall. (And the anecdote was just plain cool!)

Higdon performed nicely in a spring game against a spotty roster. That's not bad at all. It also doesn't mean much for the year going forward. What matters will be fall practice and the actual games, where Higdon will rightly get a lot of carries (I personally love his style and expect great things).

He is not being marginalized. If and when he demonstrates that he is worthy of the starting role we will see it on the field and it will be spoken of on the board.

Don't get personal about it. 


April 17th, 2017 at 1:49 PM ^

It's understandable, but your frame of reference clearly affects how you are perceiving this. It is much more likely, to me, that your proximity to Higdon is influencing your feelings than the idea that Brian is deliberately trying to undersell Higdon for some obscure reason.

I might feel the same way in your position, but that doesn't mean that it's not a personal thing.


April 17th, 2017 at 3:25 PM ^

Has he forgotten so quckly the "Higdon is better than Mike Webber" stuff from last year?  Saying Higdon looked like Higdon is not an insult, the blog likes Higdon and he looked quite good.  The coaching staff is all about platooning at the RB to not destroy kids before the NFL and to get the most out of everyone, Higdon will play quite a bit this year.


April 18th, 2017 at 9:44 AM ^

What it's making you come off as is a bit of a Hater. To anyone else the flag football story was pretty cool, especially as it's SO Harbaugh like.
Bad look even if you're tight with a player. There'll be carries for all, let's see what they do with their opportunities.
Nothing written here will make any difference in those outcomes.


April 17th, 2017 at 4:10 PM ^

Don't trouble yourself in being less than abrasive with me. Speak your mind. A running back scored two 2tds on 12 carries in a Spring Game that mattered. Proof is in the extensive coverage. There was more commentary on another running back and his flag football coaching than the actual running of the football on the field. I never once said anything negative about another player....and wont. Chris is great. So is Karan. So when he scoresaid twice in a competitive Spring Game... do NOT backhand it with false verbiage about backup DTs and undermine it like ithat was anything besides what it was. Stand behind everything I said and provided explanation as to why I said it. That being said anyone that has issue with what I said is free to express it. It won't however sway my opinion on what I previously stated. I don't teach my guys to pine for notoriety or too feel sorry for themselves at all. I tell them to earn it and keep their mouth shut. In this instance I'm saying what I feel. He was the only skill player other than Peter's to score twice and his performance was glossed over and marginalized with comments of backup DT play. No. Not letting that slide. He ran very well against the number 1 defense with a backup Oline. Stop marginalizing. I will call it out the next time too. You don't have to agree and my viewpoint is beyond reasonable.