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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

sorry this is late, it had to be rebuilt after Firefox froze. I was asking for it though... something like 80 windows open.

If my feedreader is any indication, you're already stuffed with information about Michigan's spring practice and game. But I would be remiss if I didn't chip in with what I have.

First, something that purports to be the entirety of the spring game-like substance in four minutes and seventeen seconds:

Given other descriptions of the game I believe the above is missing a number of plays -- no dropped balls -- but it's still a quick primer on what went down.

You can get most of the same thing with better video quality and some guy who calls Troy Woolfolk "Woolfork" and Nick Sheridan "Andy Mignery"(!) twice(!!!), plus some interviews in the extended highlights provided on the Big Ten Network:

(What is with this "Woolfork" stuff, man? It's an error rampant on message boards and it even showed up in a Free Press article... three times! Who would make a fork out of wool? It would be floppy and when you got stuff on it, which you would constantly because that is the life purpose of a fork, you couldn't wash it because then you'd have mini-woolfork. And HIS DAD, who is also NOT NAMED "WOOLFORK," is ONE OF THE BEST RUNNING BACKS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM. I think I NEED TO CALM DOWN ABOUT THIS.)

Holy crap that's a lot of ugly interceptions. The only other thing that pops out: Avery Horn is as fast as rumored. Oh, and Threet looks a little like Justin Timberlake.

Michigan Sports Center has collected the media available on the game, and MVictors has an extensive photo gallery.

H'okay. In marked contrast to years previous, information about Michigan's spring practices is flying around, giving us a new problem: instead of one secretive and possibly sketchy source, Michigan fans are confronted with a wide array of often conflicting information.

Let's try to sort it out. In addition to the material published in the paper and online I'll intersperse some impressions from emailers; the largest bulk comes from Craig Ross, a dedicated observer of the program and author who's been to a lot of spring practices.

Quarterback. Rodriguez said Sheridan and Threet were both equal on Saturday but Threet had pulled ahead in the practices leading up to the game. In all likelihood, he is your Utah starter. Ross:

Threet was a bit better than Sheridan. But, man, this looks like a sore spot. Teams are just going to sit on the run and underneath stuff and ignore us deep. But, it was wet and cold. The ball was probably hard to throw. Antonio Bass would have been perfect in this offense. What a heartbreak for another truly kind and thoughtful person. [My guess is Carlos Brown will get some reps in the fall, unless Feagin can pick the offense up quickly and is better than most think.]
In the video above you can see the long bomb completed to Mathews was underthrown by about 20 yards. Chad Henne's deep ball will be missed. Oh, and his tendency to not throw six interceptions.

Fellow attendee Stephen Raines:
Threet looked really weak. Although, he showed good decision making at times, his passes were not pretty and often into tight coverage. Sheridan actually looked decent, at times, at others you could really see how his height will get in the way of him ever being a starter, but he had some good throws. Where he was a better runner than Threet, this benefit goes out the window when we tried to run the option and he completely missed the pitch.
The attempted options in the spring game were few, far between, and ugly as sin. As previously theorized, it's going to be confusing and ugly early. I expect at least three players (Threet, Feagin, and one or both of Brown/Minor) to take snaps at QB, though one or two of those players will be operating as an Incredibly Surprising Running Quarterback in the vein of Darren McFadden. Hopefully very much in the vein of Darren McFadden.

If David Cone strides onto any field of play when a game is remotely close, cower. (Ross repeatedly mentions he's a fantastic kid, though.)

Running back. This is one spot that will likely find a strong starter simply because Michigan has too many bullets in the chamber to miss with all of them. Mike Barwis ate Carlos Brown's finger, causing him to miss much of the spring as Barwis grows him a new one; Kevin Grady had a lingering knee injury of some variety that held him out. Grady did come back midway through spring practice, but most of the reps went to Horn and Minor.

Avery Horn was not mentioned in AA News today (at least I didn't see anything) but he has big play potential. The rumor is that he has had trouble learning the offense (moving to slot?) but he has remarkable speed. I thought Minor and Grady played hard and pretty well.
You can see Horn's lightning quicks in the video above. There are two sweep handoffs that together tell a story: on the first, Minor pops outside the defensive and and gets decent yardage but can't get the corner. On the second, Horn does the exact same thing, bursts to the outside, and ends up grabbing a big chunk of yards.

Still, it's Minor gathering praise for his work ethic and leadership and Horn who is still reputed to be having difficulties with all the things he has to do in the offense. And then there's Grady, who had one impressive run during the scrimmage and was the subject of Brandon Graham's violent attentions. Ever spring we hear he's driving bowling-ball shaped holes through defenders and rescuing the princess with dashing derring-do, then in fall we either get unimpressive performance or exploded ligaments.

Minor is your tentative front-runner now, but as many as six players (the four on campus now plus Mike Shaw and Sam McGuffie) will vie for carries in the fall.

Wide Receiver and Tight End. This position group was extremely thin due to NFL draft entry and Junior Hemingway's high ankle sprain. Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons, Zion Babb, and James Rogers were the only scholarship players available, and the latter two were DBs for part or all of last year.

Some positive indicators from Raines:
A plus here, Mathews showed that he can catch the ball, even on a bad pass. And because he was covered by Trent, this impressed me. Clemons looked pretty solid too. He had a couple quick slant passes that showed he can catch it in the middle.
Mathews will be reliable but not game breaking. Ross sounds an alarm about the general lack of speed in the unit:
But mostly we went with one tight end. Sometimes two. Rarely 4 wideouts. The fact is we have tight ends but not much in the way of slot receivers. ... Over the coming years, I would expect to see less and less of the tight end. The theoretical key to RR's spread is 4 wide----and my guess is he wants to get there. But not this year. I think we will see a lot of 11 packages [1 TE, 1 RB -ed] in the fall. Recruiting might look to TEs who can also play OT, as opposed to TEs who might be used as WRs---our current batch.

RR seemed pleased about the team understanding of his offense. From an intellectual point of view, the team is well ahead of where he guessed it would be at this time. The problem is (according to RR) "we are too slow." I think this references (primarily) the slot receiver position (and QB, of course). This will change with the 4 guys coming in---I know Odoms and TR and McGuffie ain't slow.
This is how bad it is: Jim Potempa, the little guy you might remember from the end of the Notre Dame and Purdue games, has been pressed into service as the wacky slot guy. The starting wacky slot guy. Terrance Robinson and Martavious Odoms are going to get all the snaps in the slot from day one.

Offensive Line. Justin Boren is a communist. Past that, the threat level here is pink or orange or whatever is equivalent to "the nukes are on their way." Virtually every observer has called the offensive line a Sauer -- zing -- this spring, and when Rodriguez made the quarterbacks live for a brief period Threet was immediately knocked out with a minor injury.

It looks like the first group right now is Moosman, Schilling, Ortmann, MacAvoy and Zirbel. My guess is Molk may still sneak in. But, for the moment, the first five seem like the leading candidates.

They weren't awful. At this time of year, that might be OK. I have seen some good lines look awful in the spring. On the other hand, they weren't very good---at least w/o looking at the tape.
I think this group would mean a move inside for Schilling, as Ortmann and Zirbel have always been tackles. Moosman and Schilling won awards are thus good bets to start. Ortmann basically has to be the left tackle unless Dann O'Neill is just awesome. MacAvoy and Zirbel should be considered provisional with David Molk and the true freshman threats to take their jobs. (Dey tik er jebs!)

I dunno. It's gonna be rough.

Defensive Line. Michigan's hopes for a good season rest on this unit being frickin' awesome. So... hope that Terrance Taylor's apparent demotion to second string is successful motivational ploy and not an indication that he's not taking to the Way of Barwis. I kinda think he might be, though:

Jamison and Taylor. Compare that to previous years and you can see that the Taylor beer gut and Jamison bunda are significantly attenuated.

Will Johnson won kind of a weird award for a fifth-year senior and returning starter to pick up:
Fifth-year senior Will Johnson (Oakland, Mich./Lake Orion HS) received the Meyer Morton Award, granted to the senior football player that experienced the greatest development and showed the most promise during spring practice.
Johnson was excellent in spot duty as a sophomore but only okay last year. He was pretty highly touted as a recruit before an ACL tear cost him his senior year, so he could have some upside left. He's always been renowned as one of the hardest workers on the team... hopefully he can make a big leap.

Meanwhile at defensive end, Jamison and Graham are both reputed to have lost 15 or 20 pounds during their period of Barwisization. Rodriguez has apparently gotten a little ticked at defensive coordinator Scott Schafer for unleashing the DEs a little too frequently and violently. There's certainly the potential for these guys to blow up. Jamison has alternated explosive plays with wheezing and Graham was clearly a physical marvel on par with Woodley but lost his conditioning late in the year, most prominently when Michigan State plowed him over again and again in the second half. Both of these players were top-50 recruits.

Behind them there's very little. Ryan Van Bergen did get an award of his own:
Freshman defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (Whitehall, Mich./Whitehall HS) led all newcomers, earning the John F. Maulbetsch Award. This honor is given to a distinguished freshman athlete on the basis of desire, character, capacity for leadership and potential for future success.
Michigan really needs him to work out given the way defensive end recruiting has gone the last couple years.

Linebackers. Obi Ezeh is penciled in as a starter somewhere, which is unsurprising. The surprising thing is the emergence of senior JUCO transfer Austin Panter. Ross on an earlier practice:
The LBs looked good, notably Panter (!!!!) who seemed to be running with Thompson with the top DL group.
Insert default moaning about blown redshirts here. IIRC, Panter was an MLB/SLB type, which would mean he's battling Thompson for one of the two big beefy guy slots.

On the weakside, I guess Brandon Logan is still technically a threat but it's Jonas Mouton and whichever freshman impresses the most. There were a few rumblings that Mouton looked pretty good but after last year, when he could not see a snap playing behind a poor Chris Graham, this blog is spooked about his ability.

Secondary. Except for the nasty rumors flying around that Donovan Warren might transfer, cornerback is set with three returning starters. As for the rumors: they're widespread enough that I give them credence but I think they're unlikely to come to fruition. If he was going to go he probably would have already announced it a la Boren. And if they were serious he probably would have missed some time in the spring a la Carlos Brown last year. Knock on wood.

The questions, then, are at safety, where both starters graduated. Stevie Brown was a special teams standout and practice hero as a freshman. He was given the starting spot for The Horror... and immediately gave up a long touchdown and entered the Hall of Infamous Michigan Athletes. Not bad for a first start. Brandent Englemon replaced him before halftime.

Yeah, now he's basically guaranteed a starting job. Ross says he looked "pretty good," and there is the potential that Michigan Safety Hating God has moved on to other pastures with the departure of Carr and his staff. I, and probably all of you, will be nervous until his play dictates otherwise.

The other spot is probably going to go to Charles Stewart, but sophomore Artis Chambers and redshirt freshman Mike Williams also played well. Ross says Williams was noticeable during the spring game and Chambers had the wherewithal to catch wounded ducks thrown directly to him, which will be a critical skill for the Notre Dame game (zing!).