Spring Stuff: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 8th, 2014 at 2:06 PM

WELP. In a word, Michigan's offense was ominous. It was ominous—worse than that—in Hoke's first year, though, and that worked out okay as long as Al Borges wasn't trying to make Denard Robinson into a pocket passer. Standard disclaimer about information value of spring.

That stated, yeesh. We knew the situation at tackle was going to be iffy, especially with Magnuson out. Having Mason Cole as the first option at the most important spot on the line was beyond those expectations. Meanwhile, Michigan is prepping the only remaining guy who started every game last year (Graham Glasgow) at right tackle, which they'll say is just precautionary but speaks of some trepidation about Ben Braden. I do not want there to be trepidation about Ben Braden.

Hoke did not mince words when asked if they thought they'd found their best five:

"I don't know if we can say that, honestly," Hoke said. "I know I can't.

"So, I guess the answer is no."

Are the Wolverines even close, really, to identifying the best five?

"No," Hoke said. "Not yet."

That was apparent on the field, where runs generally got to the line of scrimmage (hooray!) and no further (mutter). Pass protection was close to nonexistent. It was what everyone expected, which was bad. They've got five months to figure it out, whereupon they probably won't figure it out. Digging out of a hole as big as Michigan dug last year is a two-year operation.

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Nussmeier and new protégé [Bryan Fuller]

Quarterbacking. Gardner was just two of ten, but Morris was hardly better. Gardner's interception was at least at his receiver; Morris threw one directly into Lewis's chest. In the aftermath there were the usual quotes about how it's an open competition, but, yeah, when the Big Ten Network's main Morris highlight is a pass thrown behind the line of scrimmage that guy isn't displacing a quarterback who averaged 8.6 YPA last year and can run.

Neither quarterback was helped by the pass protection, which forced them to move around and let Michigan's secondary recover. Gardner's move and re-set on one throw allowed Jarrod Wilson to get over to Canteen on a corner route, for example. We have a ton of Gardner data from a year and a half as the starting quarterback. One spring outing isn't going to move the needle.

Speight didn't do much; Bellomy didn't look better than he did against Nebraska.

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Hayes should be a legit option. [Fuller]

Tailbacking. On the few runs on which tailbacks had an opportunity to do something notable it was usually Justice Hayes doing the notable thing. He had a couple of quality cuts in tight areas that got him a nice chunk. Derrick Green had one bounce outside on which he seemed quicker than last year but still not particularly quick; De'Veon Smith also turned in a leg-churning run.

They're all about even, it seems. Michigan will cycle through them looking for one to break out. That's a tough ask given the line. It's platoon time. Michigan still seems to insist that anyone who does not resemble a moose must be relegated to third downs:

"Right now, if we're not in a third down situation, it's De'Veon and Derrick. And then Justice if we get into third down."

There's no reason that Hayes shouldn't be given a look as the feature back after last year's lack of production all around and his evident ability. He was no slouch as a recruit, and being able to pick through traffic is a nice skill to have. You get the impression that Hoke would ride David Underwood for years before even considering Mike Hart. Size isn't everything. Ask the Kansas State team that just eviscerated you with a 5'8" tailback and 5'11" wide receiver.

It's also time for Fred Jackson to preach the simplicity line and throw shade on Al Borges:

"Guys are more consistent now with their reads, going from point A to point B with protections," Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said last week on WTKA-AM in Ann Arbor. "By not having a ton of protections and a ton of different runs, it allows the guys to be more consistent in what they're doing."

/waves tiny flag

Of course, the main problem with the blitz pickups last year was not so much the tailback going to the wrong spot but what happened when he met the blitzer. That's on Jackson, not Borges. The thing about not doing every possible thing is great—I've heard that Michigan had 13 different protection schemes last year. 13!

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MOS EISLEY FTW [Eric Upchurch]

Something about a wretched hive of scum and villainy I can't quite figure out. Freddy Canteen went from freshman to Manningham in the space of 15 practices, starting the day opposite Devin Funchess, making the one deep catch of the scrimmage session, and smoking Blake Countess over the top on another pass that Gardner threw short. Countess caught up; it was still reminiscent of 86.

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Almost. [Upchurch]

Also reminiscent of 86, at least as a freshman: people screaming at Canteen about where to line up pre-snap. There was one memorable play in Manningham's freshman year where Fred Jackson was having a conniption fit on the sideline trying to get Manningham to relocate himself; Manningham did not and scored a touchdown anyway. Canteen dredged that memory up on Saturday.

Spring depth etc., but passing Jehu Chesson after a promising freshman year from him is a real thing. The tea leaves here suggest Canteen is the real deal—Michigan does not need a WR savior and has a veritable avalanche of bodies they can put on the outside. Canteen rocketed past last year's WR class and Chesson in 15 practices. It would be easy for Michigan to talk him up and throw him in the slot; instead they appear to be prepping him for a major role on the outside.

"I've been at slot and outside receiver, (I'm comfortable) at both, but I'll play probably more outside," Canteen said. "(I want to be a playmaker), to be honest. I just want to make plays."

Darboh and Chesson will also figure in; with Funchess that gives Michigan four guys with production or hype or both to their name. They're suddenly flush. With York and Dukes—who made a nice diving catch—also available, it seems like Drake Harris and Moe Ways should redshirt.

Let's think about the guy like a football player instead of a traveling circus. I can only assume the light deployment of Dennis Norfleet was for cackling-about-your-mad-plan-in-your-underground-lair reasons. It was encouraging to see them throw an actual route his way, a wheel on which Jourdan Lewis took an unnecessary pass interference flag on an overthrown ball. I support the integration of Dennis Norfleet into the base offense instead of having a completely separate Norfleet offense that always results in him getting the ball going laterally.

Hooray for efficiency. One of the most disconcerting things about Michigan's spring activity is how much standing around there is. For many, they're setting a countable hour on fire. This is apparently not how it works behind closed doors:

"Practices are really fast, we get a lot of reps," Gardner said. "This was probably the fastest practice I've ever been a part of."

There's been plenty of talk about the overall pace Nussmeier -- Michigan's first-year offensive coordinator -- works with in practice, and the overall level of tempo he chooses to play with during games.

Practices are quick. When a play ends, the next group -- according to players -- is expected to be out of the huddle and ready to snap the ball for the next rep. That concept is a simple one: It creates more reps, and for a young team, the more reps the better.

For any team, really. And that should serve Michigan well when they want to change the tempo, something Borges teams were mind-bendingly awful at. Here's a manna from heaven quote:

"I think the biggest thing, you always want to be able to control the tempo on offense -- whether that's to speed the game up or slow the game down," Nussmeier said during an interview with WTKA-AM 1050 in Ann Arbor on Thursday. "We practice at a fast tempo for a lot of reasons. One, it forces our guys to play fast and focus and always concentrate.

"And it also allows us to pick the tempo of the game up (if we need to)."

Hallelujah.

Random Mone quote I missed yesterday. This is an epic nonquote.

"I'm just having fun, being blessed," he said. "Just having fun playing the game is what I think my teammates have noticed. My enthusiasm is the main thing I bring to the field."

Our THREE weapons are having fun, being blessed, and having enthusiasm!

Complaining Section

yankeestad-9[1]

WE MUST MAN THE BARRICADES OR OUR FATE IS SEALED

The experience of being at the spring game was not a pleasant one. Brandon further pushed the limits of his promise not to put advertising in Michigan Stadium (a promise he's already broken in a dozen different ways) with large videoboard ads for Comcast and Allstate. There was also some dude kicking a field goal sponsored by PNC. Dude is just itching to turn Michigan's gameday experience into OSU or MSU where the scoreboard looks like a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit and each play is brought to you by Depends Adult Undergarments.

More maddening was the constant—and I mean constant—wedding DJ music, which only dropped out for brief periods in which the band was suffered to play. By the end of the day it appeared like the band just said "screw it, we're playing" and went about fifteen minutes straight. This was a merciful relief.

The music combined with the punting drill section of the day was typical Michigan at this point: we'll be shitty to you, fans, but here is this awesome guitar riff! Hunter Lochmann apparently believes that any deficit can be obscured by music. If things go poorly this season expect them to try two songs at once for the entirety of the Penn State game. One of them will be Phil Collins, because that's the soul of football.

The contrast between the NCAA tournament regional the week before and the spring game could not have been greater. The tournament is a great event the NCAA gets out of the way of. Michigan has a crappy event they try to dress up. Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course. Michigan remain focused on one thing and one thing only: strip-mining revenue from the banks of fan loyalty like it is an infinite resource.

Any things they do that are actually fan-friendly, like bringing in a slightly less rank standard of nonconference opponent, are because they have reached the limit of their ability to strip-mine. Michigan reminded fans in attendance to renew their season tickets—an announcement that never needed to be made before.

It would be one thing if the people making these decisions did anything but ape whoever their counterparts are in the ECHL. They have no concept of forming an identity to rally around. They just have spreadsheets.

Comments

Mich1993

April 8th, 2014 at 8:20 PM ^

I'll admit to being an optimist, but I can't believe how negative this thread is.  Here are the positives I took from Saturday:

1.  Our defense blitzed and played press coverage.  This is great for the defense, but it is more important for Devin Gardner and the line's development.  We all watched last year's offense struggle against the blitz.  The only way to be prepared to play the blitz is to practice against it early and often.  If we do this all spring and fall practices and can't handle blitzes come game time, shame on us.  In the fall, we will intenionally run some plays that work well against blitzes rather than forcing Gardner to make the hot read.  We all saw our offense succeed against teams that didn't blitz, if we can hold our own against pressure, the offense will be fine.

2.  We appear to have 2 new playmakers in Lewis and Canteen.

3.  AJ Williams looked to be able to block and Heitzman did too.  Competent TE blocking will make a big difference over last year.

4.  I thought the OL looked a lot better in the second half of practice.  Bosch and Braden looked fine and Miller had his moments.  Put Magnuson and Glasgow in the starting lineup, and we could be ok.  

5.  Safety play was good.  Jarrod Wilson had a couple nice plays, and Jeremy Clark had a couple nice plays in run support.

6.  I believe the defense looks like a big step up from last year's defense even factoring in the offense. 

GoBLUinTX

April 8th, 2014 at 10:37 PM ^

there is a barrel full of negative confirmation bias going on here.  On all of the spring practice threads for that matter.  I suspect it will continue well into the season now matter game out comes.  Win 27-3, talk will be about the stalled drives that led to punts and field goals.

 

FreddieMercuryHayes

April 8th, 2014 at 2:22 PM ^

Well...at least the OL wasn't walking right past unblocked guys in an attempt to block someone on the second level, thus leaving DLs and LBs to knife into the backfield unmolested.  Baby steps?

Oh, and totally agree with you on the the 'feeling' of the spring 'game'.  I wasn't there, but just watching on TV...god that was just the worst sporting even ever.  Just make it freaking fun for the people that came out to watch.  Don't make it boring and generic.  Plus actually putting a good product on the field for the fans buys you a lot of loyalty.  That is not something UM has been able to do very well for the last half decade.  Hopefully they don't push it too much that the loyalty starts to break.

dnak438

April 8th, 2014 at 2:25 PM ^

"Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course."

Am I missing something here? I assume that Brian meant "Brandon" here, not Hoke. Does Hoke disregard the fanbase?

JeepinBen

April 8th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

I dunno if Hoke "regards" the fanbase, but it's clear that the "spring game" was actually Practice #15 and not anything for the fans.

Since we've got a pretty young team that's probably for the best, but it's not like Hoke went out of his way to put on a show.

turd ferguson

April 8th, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

Yeah, I don't get it.  It seems like whatever the marginal benefit of the 15th spring practice is (minus the benefit of having a practice/scrimmage that's actually fun to watch), it has to be really small compared to the benefits of making this a really fun, interesting day for fans, recruits, etc.  The whole thing feels like a wasted opportunity to me.

uncleFred

April 8th, 2014 at 7:09 PM ^

in his presser Hoke told everyone that using that as a practice was far more important to the team's progress than staging a real game. He told us that with the installation of a new offense and a revamped defense the players needed the structured reps of a practice. 

Be honest, if this maximizies the ability of the program to win an extra game in the fall would you really rather have a "fun interesting day for fans"?

 

wile_e8

April 8th, 2014 at 2:34 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Hoke decides what the team does for the spring "game". So the fact that the first 2/3 of the event consisted of punting drills and other boring things instead of stuff the fans are excited to watch falls on Hoke. Not that those drills aren't important to the team in the grand scheme of things, but no fans would show up to watch them without the carrot of an actual scrimmage at the end.

FreddieMercuryHayes

April 8th, 2014 at 2:35 PM ^

I think it's an appropriate comment.  Hoke brought back Fort Schembechler.  He's a straight up 'it's none of your buisness' type coach like Carr before him.  I mean it's OK to a certain extent, and probably helps the team in some ways.  But he does nothing to try and include the fanbase.  Contrast to even Bama which I believe has all practices open.  Or OSU which has that fan appreciation extravaganza during spring ball.  I think fandom, along with society as a whole, as changed to expect information now, and openness abound.  Hoke has not adapted to this.

MGlobules

April 8th, 2014 at 3:59 PM ^

numb with fear. You can smell it, and it's emanating from the whole enterprise. I know a lot of people said he had two years after last year; I don't see it. If only Brandon would go with him.

The new president will have the opportunity to make a statement here at some point. . . Making money is cool, but Dollar Dave is killing the goose that laid the maize egg. It is quite possible in the current economic environment to wind up with lots of cold cash and far fewer fans. 

 

chunkums

April 8th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

I am of the opinion that the line will get better throughout the course of the season, but maybe not as much as people want. They only had a few weeks of practice after performing worse than any line in school history, so there is serious work to be done. Looking at historical trends, Borges offenses tend to get drastically worse, especially in the running department, after either his second or third year. His one exception to the gradual decline is SDSU, where he had a future NFL back in the Mountain West. I think this speaks volumes to player development, which we will hopefully have now with Nussmeier.

Meson

April 8th, 2014 at 2:33 PM ^

Alas, there were also poster ads for PNC on the brick wall arond the field... I thought those were more noticable than the Allstate net (was a single field goal kicked that day?)

matty blue

April 8th, 2014 at 2:37 PM ^

i haven't attended the spring game in about ten years, for a variety of reasons, but had attended, off and on, about 15 times before.  i had seriously thought about making the 2-hour drive this year because, in my memory, the spring game was just about football.  no scoreboards, no blaring rock music, no uniformz, no'presented by' hijinx...just a couple of bucks to walk in and room to move around to watch my team.

it hadn't even occured to me that the "extra" stuff would start bleeding into the spring game (although, in retrospect, i have no idea why i thought that)...when i read the 'man the barricades' portion of this post i was much less annoyed than i would have expected to be.  i guess that means i'm a beaten man.  a cash cow in a blue hat.

steve sharik

April 8th, 2014 at 2:39 PM ^

...there were technically "13 different" protection schemes, I'll take that with a grain of salt when it comes to the RBs.  Many times the assignment for the RBs are the same across multiple protections.  I think the main problem with pro-style systems can be summed up thus:

 

Space Coyote

April 8th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

But there are probably ~25 in a full playbook. Now, no college teams will implement all 25ish, but 13 also isn't a waterfall of schemes.

Look at it this way, you have different schemes for different personnel (11 personnel vs 21 personnel & 12 personnel), you have BOB blocking, slide protection (strong and weak), half slide, you have different PA schemes, you have roll out schemes, you have sprint out schemes, half roll schemes, screen schemes, you have 5 man, 6 man, and 7 man schemes, sometimes you have leaks, sometimes you have hots from the other positions, etc. They add up quickly.

This gets back to people complaining last year about RBs not leaking out, about always running 7 man schemes, about not doing a bunch of other things in the pass game. Well you can, but then you just have more schemes. People were advocating for greater simplicity in scheme while unknowingly demanding the offense needed more complexity.

So, while I do believe Nuss is reducing the number of schemes, it won't be like suddenly there are four pass pro schemes they are running and two run schemes.

Borges had six run schemes supposedly, I'm guessing that's something like: outside zone, inside zone, power, counter, iso, down G. Nuss will have at least four: outside zone, inside zone, power, counter trey. Eventually they'll probably get a fifth, and it'll likely be a zone varient. That's a healthy and realistic reduction in run blocking scheme with more emphasis on a base, which is good.

In the pass game, Michigan still needs a BOB, full slide, and half slide at least, all with 7 man protections, this equates to probably five schemes when you include different personnel groupings, but at least four (4). They need at least two 6 man schemes, one where the RB stays in, one where the TE stays in (6). They need at least one 5 man scheme (7). They probably need at least one screen scheme (8). Probably need at least one sprint out and one PA off of zone scheme (10). So at a minimum they are looking at 10 schemes, and that's a minimalized blocking scheme playbook.

So to give people an approximation based off of watching their offenses:

Nuss starting this year = ~14-15 schemes

Nuss goal = ~18-20 schemes

Borges last year = ~19 schemes

Borges goal = ~21-22 schemes.

FWIW, this can all get misleading toward your argument in a hurry. Is pin and pull different than outside zone? Yes and no. Is counter trey much different than power? Not really, but yes. What about draws? Is a lead draw different than an Iso? In technique yes, but in many ways no. So you can lump things together (all slide protections for instance), and act like you're reducing things or separate them and act like you're getting more complex. The same can be done for playcalling: we ran 60 formations; yeah, well three were the same but the WR lined up on the numbers, on the hash, and squeezed. If you really want to say it you only ran 20 formations.

MVictors97

April 8th, 2014 at 4:31 PM ^

I would lump those together for sure.

IZ and OZ are the same scheme, different techniques. Unless as you mention you use pin and pull for OZ and then you can MAYBE consider it a different scheme.

Power and Counter are both the gap scheme. The BST, C, PSG, PST, and TE all do the same thing on power or counter. Only the BSG and F/H switch.

Iso and lead draw are the same scheme with different techniques by a couple guys.

Almost all college and pro teams will have those 3 schemes (zone, gap, iso/base). And with a young oline I am sure they are treating it as 3 schemes and not 6. Anything else will be special variation and game plan type stuff. Wham and Cutback/Seal might be your zone variations. G stuff and Jet stuff might be a special etc...

I know this is exactly what you are saying I am just saying I would for sure lump these together, especially when teaching a young oline.

 

 

 

Space Coyote

April 8th, 2014 at 5:15 PM ^

But it is still a single scheme. It's the same for run schemes, it does vary based on alignment of the defense.

For protection schemes, it varies more the fewer players you keep in to block, i.e. a 6 man scheme has more variance than a 7 man scheme because there are more rules to pick up the variety of things a defense can throw at you.

This is why a reduction in schemes is beneficial though, because it's not simply dance steps. You need to be prepared in each scheme to react to what defenses could potentially do.

boliver46

April 8th, 2014 at 2:41 PM ^


Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course.

 

So what part exactly do you consider to be Hoke's disregard?  Are you sure you don't mean Brandon?  

 

EDIT: Someone beat me to this above, but I am leaving as is for emphasis. /s

FreddieMercuryHayes

April 8th, 2014 at 2:57 PM ^

I think many people have been calling for Funk to go the way of Borges for a while now.  I mean, there's definitely evidence that there has been little to no actual development of a lineman outside of Schofield under Funk.  However, I think many, including me, are willing to give Funk a pass with the addition of Nuss.  Funk is an inside zone guy and Nuss in an inside zone guy.  If those reports of Borges are true of having 6 run blocking concepts and 13 pass protections as Brian states above...well, that's a hell of a lot for a young lineman to pick up, and a hell of a lot for a coach to teach as well.  I'm willing to let Funk teach the linemen his expertise (inside zone), and then let them rep it over and over again and see what happens.  Hopefully they'll improve as the season goes on as well. 

Pit2047

April 8th, 2014 at 6:38 PM ^

Lewan wasn't exactly a worked beater when Funk got here, Glasgow has shown great development and Braden looked like he could be solid if he didn't have a club on his arm.  I'm expecting Magnuson to be solid and I'm hoping Kalis will join that category this year.  Solid is about what I expect out of RS Sophomores and the only one we have who isn't is Bars and seeing how the other three are showing signs that they are that is probably more on Bars and less on Funk.  Miller is undersized and not a technician so he falls into the category that 95% of the other undersized OL fall into, scrub.  Bosch looks "eh" right now and should have redshirted.  The rest of the OL on the roster haven't even been on campus a full year and only Miller and Graham were on the roster during Funk's first 18 months here, so I don't know where people get the whole "he hasn't developed any players" mantra but I haven't seen any evidence of it.  Personally I don't expect RS FR to play and in a perfect world shouldn't really even be in the two deep so the fact that the 2013 class doesn't look ready to play doesn't make me think Funk is a bad coach.  Best case scenario is we get Lindsay and our starting line up reads Mags Graham Lindsay Kalis Braden and I'd be pretty content with that.  One thing we can't have is injuries to the starters because I don't think anyone on the roster outside of maybe Bosch with some improvement this summer is ready to play.

Indiana Blue

April 8th, 2014 at 2:42 PM ^

to be punishing backs, but youhave to like the poise that Hayes showed.  He looked for holes as he was receiving the ball.  Plus - based on last year he was the ONLY reliable RB for catching passes.  He may very well be the best "all around" back we have.

Also - defense always has the advantage in these types of "games".  The secondary may actually be very good this season, I like what I saw .... and Peppers wasn't even on the field yet!

Go Blue!

maize-blue

April 8th, 2014 at 2:58 PM ^

I think they (Green/Smith) both would be primed for decent years this season. But I'm concerned that the OL is still 1 season away from being any kind of decent. So, Hayes might actually be more of a contributor this season because of his shiftiness. I think both Green and Smith need some space to get their momentum going.

 

westwardwolverine

April 8th, 2014 at 2:55 PM ^

Did some research that made me sad. 

After Michigan's young recruits looked so bad last year (outside of Magnuson at times), I checked in some of our offensive line misses over the past few years: 

2011: Jake Fisher played significant minutes at Oregon(!!!) as a true freshmen, started as a true Sophomore. 

2012: Alex Kozan started as a RS FR at Auburn (!!!!). Josh Garnett started in his second year at Stanford (!!!!!) after playing significant minutes during his true freshman season. Jordan Diamond saw time during 4 games at Auburn as well as a RS FR. 

The obvious caveat is that these guys had more experience around them, but damn. Michigan has pulled in some seriously talented guys according the the recruiting sites and if the results aren't there this year (especially when you compare our guys to the ones who went elsewhere), the coaching staff is either A. Extremely unlucky B. Starstruck or C. Lacking in ability to coach these guys up.