Before we launch into the details of this year's spring game, I just want to say that I am 100% impressed with the way in which this event was planned, advertised, and conducted. Not only did we get more than the original goal of 40,000 fans to attend, the athletic department claims that close to 50,000 fans made it into the stadium on Saturday.
From my vantage point (row 30 in the student section) it looked to be about right. The home and visitors sides were solidly packed, and the endzone sections were pretty full as well. The only areas with no fans were those which were roped off due to the construction.
Of course the weather was huge help. Sunny skies and 50+ degree temps made it bearable to sit through and not get too cold. There was a pretty good wind, but not too bad. I found it odd that the offense was always going left-to-right towards the south endzone on every scrimmage possession...always going with the wind. Whether or not that was on purpose or not I don't know...but it did cross my mind.
Okay...so, where to start?
The scrimmage started with special teams. Place kicking was okay. 43 Bryan Wright seemed to be the #1 PK, but he did split kicks with 92 Jason Olesnavage and 97 Scott Schrimscher. None of which looked to be much better than the others. I guess I expect Wright to be the main guy in the fall. But I am not impressed by what I saw.
Senior punter Zoltan Mesko looked good. He had some really awesome punts...and one that just sucked. It looked like it went off the side of his foot...but either way, I think we're covered in the punting department this year.
Backup punter 30 Chris Berry had a punt blocked by a rushing down lineman. I can't remember who it was, but it was a nice block.
Martavious Odoms was catching punts on the return team. He fumbled the first one. Even though I think it went out of bounds, still not a good move to fumble the first spring punt after a whole season of punt catching ineptitude. Fans let them know how they felt when that happened.
My first impression of watching Tate Forcier warm up was...he's short. And not just short but small in general. He has a pretty decent arm and he can move very well. In the scrimmage he was sharp on his throws and was able to escape the pocket into the open field pretty easily.
Of course it helps that the defense was going 1/2 speed around the QB, and no one touched him all day. My main concern is if he's going to be scrambling so much, he better be fast. Because he doesn't have the size to stand up to the hits that he'll take if anyone can catch him.
I was pretty happy with his accuracy though. He spread the ball around pretty well and hit his receivers in stride. It never seemed like he didn't feel comfortable in the pocket. And he scrambled in time to be able to get into space and make at least one defender miss him.
Backup QB David Cone came in and split time equally with Forcier. Cone didn't look to bad. He's got a long ways to go before he makes it into the regular backup role however. He was not as sharp on his passes, and doesn't have the scrambling ability that Forcier does. Although on one play, he put a move on Stevie Brown that led to a long run that the fans really enjoyed. Again, more of a defense going 1/2 speed than the offense looking amazing.
The line looked good. Bigger and stronger. Gave the QB time to throw pretty much all day, and also did a pretty good job run blocking. We'll go into much more detail later this week with an OL preview post.
Carlos Brown was the standout in the RB department. He had some very good runs...including a nice long 82 yard TD run. Brandon Minor also looked very strong. He was very limited in rushes though. Kevin Grady had an amazing TD run...breaking through about 4 defenders for a Touchdown. True freshman Vincent Smith looked pretty good as well. He got quite a few handoffs Saturday, as well as his fair share of receptions...mostly screens. He's also very small. I thought he'd be red-shirted this year in order to bulk up to a bigger playing weight, but that doesn't look to be the case. It looks like he'll be an integral part of this offense this fall.
We had many receivers make their debuts in this spring game. Vincent Smith, Terrence Robinson and Roy Roundtree had very nice spring games. Greg Matthews is probobly going to be the #1 wideout. But Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, James Rogers and LaTerryal Savoy will all see the ball quite a bit this fall. We have a very nice assortment of talented WRs.
As many people know, it's hard to really get a good feel for the defense in a spring game. Not only did many of the best starters not even play, but the guys who were out there were going about 1/2 speed some of the time. No one was allowed to hit the QB. And big hits were few and far between.
LB Jonas Mouton, DT Mike Martin and CB Donovan Warren did not participate due to injuries. DE Ryan Van Bergen left on a cart about 1/2 way through the game.
Senior DE Brandon Graham played very sparingly to guard against potential injury. But he looked very good in there when he did play.
True freshman DT Willam Campbell saw quite a bit of playing time Saturday. I fully expect him to make an impact immediately in the DT rotation. Which is huge because we are very thin there. I wouldn't be surprised to see an OL move over to the defensive side of the line by the fall.
Overall I think this spring game was not only a huge success from a fans perspective, but from the team standpoint as well. The players looked like they were having a good time, and the fans were enjoying a beautiful day to watch a scrimmage.
Fans expectations for a spring game are always a little too loftly. I think Michigan is right about where they need to be in terms of conditioning. The ins and outs of the offense and defense will come together much better in the fall. No doubt I think we're in a better position then we were last spring. The system has had time to fall into place, and you can tell that it's starting to become 2nd nature for these guys who are running it.
Videos have popped up from all over, and we've taken a couple of them and posted them here for your enjoyment.
Via Michigan Sports Center: Spring Game Highlights
Via Big Ten Network: Highlights and Rodriguez Interview
Michigan Sports Center
Locker Room Tour photos via MVictors
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