Eric Upchurch. Upchurch's spring gallery.
The Spring Game came and went and I don't think it was just me: this one seemed flat in comparison to previous editions. The last time Michigan had a spring game so devoid of intrigue it was 2007, when senior versions of Hart and Henne ruled on offense and Lloyd Carr was the coach. Carr often seemed like he'd prefer it if his team played in front of no one, and this tendency was most frequently expressed at spring games. 2007 was boring and that was the way of things: boring.
- 2008: closed to the public thanks to Michigan Stadium construction, we still get our first glimpses at the spread offense… and our doom. The sense of the willies you got reading descriptions of what went on (you dismissed it as meaningless spring game stuff because you didn't want to ruin your summer as well as your fall) was the first indicator of what we were in for. The turnover party did not stop until the season did.
- 2009: Tate Forcier's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for the first time as an early enrollee, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Ace puts together Weapon of Choice video that is then recut into Weapon of Choice w/ Christopher Walken video. Youtube now thinks this video is set to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," which is Skynet-level commentary on how that Forcier thing worked out.
- 2010: Denard Robinson's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for not quite the first time but definitely the first one in which he looks like a plausible quarterback, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Afterwards mgovideo published cutups of all three QBs' snaps so people could engage in Lincoln-Douglass debates about who should be the starter.
- 2011: Will Al Borges stuff Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense designed for the exact opposite sort of quarterback? Answer: argh, yes. Spring game spawns offseason-long running debate about whether it's pure folly to move away from all shotgun, all the time. Borges participates in internal conflict version of that debate and generally sides with the shotgun crew, except against Iowa, for which we all pay dearly.
The past four years the spring game has been an important data dump that has indicated quite a lot of things about Michigan's season to come. Doom in 2008. Better quarterbacking the next couple years but with a fatal flaw: Forcier and Robinson's blowout performances came against Michigan's defense, which merely blew. Last year displayed to all how bad an idea it was to go under center a majority of the time.
This year Michigan spent about the same number of snaps as last year in the spread, ran Denard out there for one series, gave the established top tailback a few carries, and the whole thing was… just there, flopping around being dull and stuff.
Maybe this opinion is influenced by the fact that I wasn't there, but I don't think so. The things we think we found out are generally less exciting than "introducing DENARD ROBINSON!" and less important than the possibility we might totally screw him up. This is a sign of health in a program. It just makes this post a little less throbbingly important than it has been recently.
Anyway, there were some things we did learn…
DonkeyPuncher231 (please change that username someday, dear DP) has spliced together just about the whole thing:
The official site put out a highlight video about half that length:
An unofficial box score from AnnArbor.com. Notables:
- Gardner two of seven with an INT and 36 yards passing.
- Bellomy six of nine but the same yardage as Gardner.
- Gardner 9 rushes for 41 yards.
- Toussaint five for 39.
- Rawls 9 for 39.
- Hayes and Smith had one yard between them on 11 carries.
- "Unknown" caught two balls for 20 yards. Tacopants?
That data in hand, let's talk turkey.
Backup Quarterback Derby? I've Never Heard Of Such A Thing
Michigan's coaches took the Colonel Tressel approach to the obvious #1 storyline of the day, Russell Bellomy looking a lot better than Devin Gardner. Bellomy praise was ladled out but when a reporter asked point-blank who the #2 guy was, Hoke's response:
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
I see nossing. I do not comment on Devin Gardner throwing multiple five-yard dumpoffs in a manner that John Shurna thinks is unusual and Northwestern's perpetual 6'9" euro center who takes threes despite never making any of them thinks is inaccurate. Neither do I comment on Gardner throwing an interception that, while a pretty good play by one Blake Countess, was also very late.
Borges's Bellomy praise was specifically parceled out after a section of Gardner hype:
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and [when] guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy.
If Gardner's been really good and Bellomy uninspiring but solid and mistake-light throughout the spring, only one of these traits came through on Saturday.
Twitter took the evidence on hand, considered it carefully, and wrote out a PhD thesis about how Gardner was terrible forever and Bellomy should be the backup quarterback as Gardner became LarryJustin FitzeraldBlackmon. And, yea, because twitter always has the most considered opinions these were not immediately regretted in the morning and… actually, hold that twitter sarcasm for one twitter moment.
Do we of the twitter hivemind regret that? Let's consider the evidence. Last year Gardner got into various games and threw 23 passes. He was 11 of 23 for 176 yards (7.6 YPA), one touchdown, and one INT. There was also this:
The defense would like to add this:
That's not much to go on. Let's make our data big, at least insofar as it can be made so.
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. Stuff on Gardner from the last spring game post:
As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. …
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. … The QBs sucked on their own. …
Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it.
Robinson went out and did okay for himself after that business, minimizing its importance in our attempts to judge him. For Gardner it remains a big chunk of the time we've gotten to see him.
Here's the video of the year previous:
A summary of that from the immediate aftermath:
Devin Gardner looked raw as hell, fumbling snaps, scrambling into trouble, and reverting to that ugly shotput motion whenever he was forced to throw on the run. He looked like a freshman, which is okay because he is a freshman. However, the torrent of spring hype that suggested Gardner would probably not redshirt because he would be Michigan's best quarterback by UConn… eh, not so much. Maybe it was just a bad day. Even if it was an off day, Robinson showed enough to relegate Gardner to the bench for the first couple games and hopefully his whole freshman year.
Gardner did show the his deep touch on a third and long seam to Odoms that was laid in perfectly. Odoms dropped it.
Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
So. This is our oeuvre. Now consider Michigan's situation:
- They didn't even attempt a long pass yesterday, presumably because they were all covered. After tight end, wide receiver is the position on offense that could most use an instant talent infusion.
- Most of the unambiguously good things Gardner did yesterday involved his legs. That scamper down the sideline… good lord y'all. It's not a big stretch to declare him the best athlete on the team outside of Denard, and given that size and wingspan he could be pushing close to #16.
- Bellomy looks like a competent game manager should the need arise.
- Given Robinson's previous two seasons at QB, the need almost certainly will arise.
- Moving Gardner away from quarterback gives Michigan exactly two QBs this year and next and means either a true freshman or low-profile redshirt sophomore starts for M in 2013.
What do you do with that? Hell if I know. If you still had Forcier around and recruited a 2012 quarterback I would be at the post office right now watching Hoke mail a bow-clad Gardner* to Jeff Hecklinski. If there were enough of us and a fiddle we'd probably be singing Hava Nagila and dancing.
*[He's also wearing a full uniform, pervs.]
In Michigan's current situation, moving Gardner is asking for this interlude in game nine:
MCDONAUGH: Michigan's quarterback is now Jack Kennedy. Ask not what your team can do for you, Jack, amirite?
MILLEN: He looks really, really sweaty.
MCDONAUGH: Astute observation, Matt. Jack Kennedy is soaked in a bodily fluid we dearly hope is sweat.
MILLEN: Someone should get him an IV. I… what is that? That can't be healthy.
MCDONAUGH: Jack Kennedy is leaving a trail of viscous material behind him that must be a slurry of sweat and pure, distilled fear. Here's the snap. Kennedy hands off from the I-form… Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: Can all that fluid really be coming out of his body?
MCDONAUGH: Take it from my uncle Morty: all that and more. Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: How can he even hold on to the ball?
MCDONAUGH: I have no idea. This series of one-yard losses may be the most heroic in football history. Vincent Smith tackled for a loss of one.
MILLEN: Just look at him not fumble that snap despite having lost half his body weight in the past six minutes.
MCDONAUGH: It's kind of beautiful.
MILLEN: For spacious skies. For aglumb waves of grain. For purple mounted mohair above the fruit-tossed Spain. AMERICAAAAAAA—
MCDONAUGH: Hagerup in to punt.
MILLEN: –AMERICAAAAAAAA, GOD SPED HIS FACE ON THEEEEEE. AND CROWN THY HOOD WITH BROTHERGOOD FROM PEA TO SHINGLING PEA.
MCDONAUGH: Inspiring stuff from Ann Arbor. Michigan has six yards of offense at the half. We'll be back after this commercial break.
SCENE. This may have been drug-induced.
Anyway. They'd probably just put Gardner in and hope they hadn't stunted his development to the point where he'd be totally useless. Things would go poorly.
Could you blame them that much, though? If Hoke reaches for the brass ring next fall and it blows up in his face because Denard goes down and the guy who was supposed to be his backup is at wideout, I probably wouldn't even be mad. It would suck, but I want a guy who will swing for the fences.
While the coaches are going out of their way to make it sound like that is not in the cards, sometimes the relationship between reality and what coaches have to say to not have horrible things happen is great. If Devin wants to be the #2 QB going into fall Michigan would be foolish not to downplay the WR stuff until he's on campus in the fall. Once he's there, then talk to him about moonlighting while still being the #2.
Gun to the head, I think he does see a lot of time at WR in fall camp. He'll still practice most of the #2 QB snaps but also taking a share of snaps at WR when Denard is out there. They'll teach him one of the four spots—probably Hemingway's—and use him in certain three and four wide receiver packages for 15-20 snaps a game. If he proves to be a top-flight guy quickly Michigan might not have much choice about using him more in tight games, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
If Denard goes down for any length of time, it'll be Devin.
Meanwhile there are 20 or 21 other positions Michigan has to fill…
All Eyes(z) On Campbell
"It just means I can't slip at all, because I got 120 eyes on me now," Campbell said of leading the team on the field.
Well… there's no denying he looked a lot better.
Like, a lot. Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
Mattison and Hoke hated it, though, hated everything. I am factoring in further improvement as this line Heningers themselves into ship shape by fall. Enough to survive a 'Bama onslaught? Probably not, but they'll be okay afterwards.
Other DL Items
Roh and Black each showed some pass-rush ability from their spots and neither got ostentatiously rammed into the endzone on a big run play. The going was tough for the offense. With four-ish starters back from an OL that paved the way for Michigan running backs—IE, no Denard—to average 5.7 YPA last year, I'll place that in the good column. The extremely tenuous good column.
One nice thing the moves do is it allows Mattison to play a ton of games with his line. Black and Roh can both function as outside DEs just fine, so Mattison can call plays where the line slants and stunts such that one of those guys ends up playing a WDE-ish slot whenever he wants. What Michigan lacks in bulk they'll have to make up for with quickness and the element of surprise; Mattison will have some chess pieces to do that with next year. Note that the touch sack on the Gardner waggle came from the containing… Black. Usually your three-technique is not the guy asked to do that.
The depth here was also encouraging. Richard Ash made a couple nice plays, which I was not expecting. One was an excellent string-out on a stretch play that forced the tailback to awkwardly cut behind him. I was beyond not expecting that. I don't think John Gasaway will get on me if I say I was shocked. Yeah. Later he showed up two yards in the backfield directly in the path of an iso; he got blocked from the side but the bounce he forced saw Marvin Robinson chop poor Vincent Smith down for a one-yard loss.
Redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman also was a standout on the second units, though his inability to flow down the line at the proper angle was the main issue on Rawls's fourth-and-short touchdown. He got into the backfield plenty. Once you've got a guy who can get there it's not that hard to get him to take the right angle against air.
Toussaint clubberates Morgan, via the Wolverine
None serious. Desmond Morgan took a cut block from Fitzgerald Toussaint and limped his way to the sidelines for the day; a source indicates that is not serious and shouldn't affect him at all. Jerald Robinson also had a minor boo boo that should not affect him.
The only player to miss the game was backup SDE Nate Brink, and that injury was no surprise since it happened before the Sugar Bowl. Barring a non-contact injury, Michigan should hit fall camp with everyone on the roster ready to go. Everyone save Brink, the suspended Josh Furman, and the mysteriously absent-but-returned now Tamani Carter got a full spring session in.
So they've got that going for them. That's a lot better than last year when five or six important players, including Toussaint and Lewan, were sidelined.
The Burzynski Start
World, meet Joey Burzynski, the redshirt sophomore walk-on who started at left guard in the spring game. That's not a huge surprise since a lot of shadowy spring practice reports praised him as a potential contributor and he had seen some time with the ones in the King of Tight Frames' highlight videos throughout the spring. His start may not mean anything more than Michigan wanted a decent right tackle (Elliott Mealer) on the second unit to give Bellomy a little time, but the guy started the spring game and must be considered an obvious member of the two-deep.
This is a development that strikes me as concerning. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant has been getting a lot of shadow praise for a year now and he doesn't seem to be anywhere close to finding a starting job. Not only is he behind Mealer on most days when Mealer is a guard, he's behind Burzynski. Decrement your Bryant excitement meters.
No offense to Burzynski, but until proven otherwise the assumption here is that the spot featuring a walk-on is going to be a problem. Even if it's not that's a spot that will be subject to fierce competition in fall.
Q: does Michigan have enough faith in one of its incoming freshman tackles to move Kalis from primary tackle backup—this site's assumed role for him as a freshman—to left guard competitor? A: Dunno. I do know they like Ben Braden a lot, like far more than the recruiting sites did. Whether he's got the polish to be that third tackle or not I don't know. I would look at insta-move of Kalis inside as a good sign as far as Magnuson and Braden go. That'll be something to watch for in the spring.
Thomas Rawls: Ramming Speed
We got a few carries from Toussaint to remind us that yes, Virginia, Michigan has a true feature back again. The headliner amongst the backups was sophomore Thomas Rawls, who showed a knack in short-yardage ramming and the sort of spread-oriented north-south RAGE runs that Brandon Minor used to specialize in.
It was the short yardage that was most impressive. Michigan's OL was rarely getting Rawls the holes they intended to get him. I'll leave the debate about whether that was Mattison's DL being better than expected or the OL worse for people who enjoy debating impossibilities; what was certainly impressive is that when that happened to Rawls he downshifted behind wherever the intended hole was supposed to be and burst into the next one over—closer to the middle of the field. He lowered his head, knocked guys back, and showed enough presence of mind to reach the ball across the goal line when he was suspended near it. Your short-yardage back: check.
Rawls also displayed that north-south bowling ball mentality on a couple of belly plays from the gun on which flailing arm tackles failed to bring him down and he fell forward after contact. He's got enough of a package to also provide breathers for Toussaint when he wants out. He'll get 5-10 carries a game this year and fill a role. Not sure if he'll ever reach feature back status with two more years of Toussaint and the Isaac(?)/Smith cavalry coming in next season, but he doesn't have to to be a good idea.
Vincent Smith: Did I Do Something Wrong?
Dear Tiny Jesus,
It's me, Vincent. All praise to your save percentage. Could you make sure the spring game is the last time I ever run an iso play from under center? I never go anywhere and it hurts a lot when six 300 pound defensive tackles fling me into the natatorium.
Congratulations on your call-up with the Blue Jackets.
Tiny Bros Before Other Bros,
(Smith will be the third down back again and will level some dudes way bigger than he is to open up third down conversions. The power of Rawls hopefully compels Michigan not to run Smith out of the I any more.)
Spring game disclaimers apply, but where were Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree? They were out there. They were not targeted frequently. IIRC Roundtree got a hitch from Robinson on the first drive and then was not gone to again. Robinson featured from time to time but never as a downfield receiver, always as a checkdown option and usually a checkdown option being given a crappy pass.
The only receiver to make an impact was Gallon. I'd prefer Michigan's main target to be a big dude with a bigger catching radius, no offense Denard.
Secondary Status Quo
After a series of video clips heavily featuring comer Terrence Talbott with the ones instead of JT Floyd it was Floyd who got the start Saturday. He played well, making quick tackles on the short stuff. Later he broke up a slant on a goal-line situation only to get a horsecrap PI call (BOOO PRETEND REF, BOOO). While Talbott got some run, I don't think Floyd's job is under serious threat. Especially after Mattison gushed about him at that Glazier clinic some months ago.
As a unit the secondary was excellent. Countess got a pick and there were very few downfield completions. A skinny post from Gardner to Gallon stands out as the only one of note. Default note about how that makes the WRs look bad goes here; comparison to Michigan defenses pre-Mattison also does. To virtually skunk an offense in 60 plays is quality. With Talbott emerging Michigan seems to go four-deep at corner, maybe five or six depending on how ready Hollowell and Taylor are. The comparison to the Never Forget days is wondrous.
If the depth isn't quite as good at safety at least Jarrod Wilson and Marvin Robinson seemed on top of things… most of the time. Wilson was the guy Rawls made most of his highlights against. If either starter goes down there will be some hairy moments. One of the two should be able to replace 80% of Kovacs next year.
Robinson is out of the doghouse and to see him play well was good because I'd gotten some practice buzz that indicated he was out of shape. He's obviously not; he seems tuned in. Michigan will need him. Even if Furman's stuff was as minor as his lawyer suggests he'll be behind this fall. If it's not as minor he might not be available for a while.
Do Not Be Alarmed, Rich Rodriguez Is Still In Arizona
Formations and such: Michigan still can't run out of the I worth a lick, which is fine by me. I suppose we have to downshift into that stuff eventually, but I'd rather it be clear as day that the way to go is shotgun just to prevent any further Iowa-like misunderstandings of where Michigan's capabilities lie.
Aside from that the most interesting aspect of the day's formations was the most common set: two backs, three WRs, shotgun. That was the meat and bones of the spread and shred in its Slaton/White/Schmitt heyday and Michigan has a pretty good replica of that in Toussaint/Robinson/Hopkins, albeit without the spread-oriented OC and the lethality of the spread in the early aughts as allies.
This says what everyone expects about the TEs—yuck—and suggests that if Michigan can't block 'em they're going to spread 'em. If it's going to work they are going to have to make that gray area defender pay for cheating. We'll see.
Brandin Hawthorne: Mauler of Walk-ons
The most interesting thing that happened after Jack Kennedy entered, signaling the end of serious attention from most folk, was Brandin Hawthorne going ham. He shot a gap for a backfield TFL reminiscent of his slice into the Irish backfield late in that game, then intercepted a TE-bound ball on the next play.
He made a few other tackles here and there and looked… really good.
Now, we've seen him on the field and there's only one way Hawthorne making contact with a Big Ten blocker ends. That would be "poorly," and that would be why Desmond Morgan took his job last year and won't give it back this year.
I'm just saying, though. Just sayin' that when Michigan goes to a nickel package on a passing down I think having Hawthorne in there as a blitzer and cover guy instead of Morgan would behoove Michigan. Morgan's a little ponderous on his pass drops, and if it's a passing down Hawthorne's limitations against rushes aren't relevant. Just sayin'. Throwin' it out there.
You, athletic department intern who has to read these things: don't say you got it from me. Ask Mattison to repeat that thing he was saying a couple months ago about using Hawthorne as a nickel WLB and how smart that seemed even before he was killing walk-ons in the spring game. Yeah.
- Bellomy ran a QB power from the gun, so it's still there and it might stick around for a while. Bellomy did decently with it.
- There were also a few inverted veers, none of which went for a ton of yards. Gardner did impressively juke himself into a crease outside on one; he was blown dead before he could test it.
- Kaleb Ringer had an impressive track-and-tackle on Hayes in the open field off a dumpoff. Next play he whiffed a tackle on Toussaint (I think it was him).
- Jeremy Jackson's lack of separation from Blake Countess was… not surprising.
- Demens blanketed a Brandon Moore TE out that Gardner shouldn't have thrown but did; he made a nice play on the ball. His coverage is an underrated aspect of his game.
- Antonio Poole only popped up on my radar when he lost leverage on a Gardner scramble late.
Weather could have been worse. This is what Indiana was facing down for their now-cancelled spring game:
Tre Roberson put the One Ring into the fires of Mount Press Box and things returned to normal.
Random picture on the twitter:
Tuley-Tillman, Bosch… OH GOD WHAT DID THEY DO TO DENARD BREATHE BREATHEEEE
LaQuon Treadwell with Morris and Bosch:
Alumni game recap at AA.com.
Bullets and whatnot from:
Also AA.com has an article on Burzynski.